Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

A formal dining guide for the informal diner

Never again wonder which fork to use first

For many of us, sitting down to a formal place setting can feel like stepping into an airplane cockpit. Like esoteric dials and switches, multiple dishes and cutlery sets can bewilder and intimidate. Not knowing how to get things started, you might reach out blindly, full of hope and fear, and … disaster strikes.

OK, it’s not that bad. Still, knowing when to use a particular fork may keep you from crashing and burning at anything from an important business meeting to a romantic dinner date.

“When eating, a lot of people don’t know you start on the outside and work in,” says Melody Borgstrom (Hospitality Management ’06), maître ‘d at Ernest’s, NAIT’s fine dining restaurant. “They just start anywhere.”

To make things simple, here’s Borgstrom’s explanation of how to navigate a formal dinner table for a typical 4-course meal – soup, salad, entrée and dessert. Bon appetite/voyage!

a guide to the formal table setting

(Download guide as PDF)

Table setting tips

  • All fork tines should point in a clockwise direction around the dinner plate
  • Knife blades should face the centre of each plate
  • Align the stem of the wine glass with the tip of the steak knife
  • The coffee cup handle should point to 3 o’clock