Handling Utensils and Eating Styles
Many people feel unsure about how to choose and use utensils properly, what to do with the knife and fork when resting or talking, and where to put them at the end of the meal. Mastering the use of utensils according to the style of eating you prefer will demonstrate confidence and finesse and make those around you feel comfortable.
There are two styles of eating accepted in North America: American and Continental/European. The American style is the most commonly used. However, with a global economy, more business men and women are choosing the Continental style, especially those who conduct business with people from other countries. Each style indicates how to hold the knife and the fork during a meal.
You should be consistent in using whichever style you select, and eat the meal with only one style; switching styles during the meal is inappropriate.
The correct way to cut your meat, whether eating American or Continental style, is to grasp your knife and fork in a relaxed, natural manner, never with clenched fists.
Both styles start with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. Both utensils are controlled by the thumb and index finger.
Placing Utensils After Start Eating
In both styles of eating, once used, your utensils, including the handles, should not touch the table again. Essentially, where it might dirty the tablecloth, used flatware must never be allowed to touch the surface of the table. It is not proper to allow even the clean handle of a knife or fork to rest on the cloth while the other end lies on the plate. Placing your fork and/or knife on the plate with the handles touching the table, like a rowboat, is inappropriate.
The American style is called “Zig-Zag.” The fork is held in the left hand, tines down; the knife in the right hand as shown in this picture.
You use the fork to hold the food while cutting a bite-size piece with the knife. It is never appropriate to cut more than one bite-size piece at a time. Then you eat food by switching the fork to the right hand and finally inserting the piece of food in your mouth. After a few bite-sized pieces of food are cut, you lay the knife on the edge of the plate with blades facing in. The entire process is repeated as your need to cut food continues.
When not cutting, the knife remains resting across the upper right quarter of the plate with the blade toward the center while eating proceeds using the fork alone.
When you are resting, your knife stays at the one o’clock position with blade turned inward and your fork at the four o’clock position with tines up.
To indicate that you have finished eating, the utensils are placed together on the plate with the fork tines up and the knife turned inward in the lower, right-hand portion of the plate between the clock positions of four and six. This assures that they will not slide off as the plate is being removed. The “I’m finished position” signals to the waitstaff that they can remove your plate and utensils. The position of the knife tells the server whether you are still eating or you are finished with your meal—one o’clock signals that you are still eating and four to six o’clock signals that you are finished.
The following pictures illustrate the appropriate use of the utensils for the American style of eating.
In the Continental style, as in the American style, the fork is held in the left hand, tines down; the knife in the right hand as shown in this picture.
After you cut bite-size pieces of food, hold the food with the fork and cut with the knife. Then spear the food with the fork—which is still in your left hand—and put it in your mouth. As you continue eating, use the knife as a backstop to assist in spearing the food with the fork. Remember that in the Continental style, the fork stays in your left hand; you do not switch.
When resting between bites, the knife and fork are crossed on the plate with the fork over the knife with the prongs pointed down in an inverted V. The well-informed waitstaff will never remove your plate with the knife and fork crossed because they know that you are not finished with your meal.
When you have completed your main course, the utensils are placed together on the plate with the fork tines down and the knife turned inward anywhere between the clock positions of four and six. This position of your silverware indicates that you have finished eating.
As you can see by the illustrations above, the “I’m finished” position in both the Continental and the American style are similar. The difference is that in the Continental style, the fork is placed with tines down and in the American style, the fork is placed with tines up. Both send a clear signal to the waitstaff that they can remove your plate and silverware.
The following pictures illustrate the appropriate use of the utensils for the Continental style