Dining manners are not just empty rules; they make dining with others a more pleasant experience for everyone. The next time you dine in someone's home or in a restaurant, remember your Ps and Qs for optimal dining enjoyment.
The napkin is usually placed to the left of the plate, under the forks. Some hosts prefer to place the napkin on the center of the plate. Either way is okay.
Put your napkin in your lap soon after you sit down. If you must leave the table between courses, place the napkin on your chair so no one sees if it is soiled. When you leave the table at the end of the meal, fold the napkin softly and place it to the left of your plate.
The dinner plate is placed directly in front of the chair, one inch from the edge of the table.
The smaller salad plate is placed to the left of the dinner plate.
The bread plate and butter knife are placed just above the fork and slightly to the left. The butter knife, which is small, is placed at an angle on the plate.
Forks always go to the left of the plate. Use forks from the outside in: the salad fork on the outside and dinner fork on the inside.
Knives always go to the right of the plate. Use each knife from the outside in. All knives should be placed with the sharp side facing in. If there is a salad knife, it is placed to the right of the dinner knife. If there is a fish course, the fish knife will be on the outside as it will be served before the salad course.
The soup spoon goes to the right of the knife or knives. When eating soup, always spoon it away from you. If the soup is hot, skim from the top layer only. And never slurp.
Dessert spoons and forks are placed above the plate or are brought out with the dessert. If the wait staff does not drag the spoon and fork down to the left and right side of the plate -- it's your job.
Glasses are placed just above the knife or knives and slightly to the right in the following order: water glass, red-wine glass, white-wine glass. Coffee is normally served separately, often times after dessert.
Salt and pepper always travel together when passed. Don't salt your food until after you taste it.
Food -- platters and bowls, bread, and salt and pepper -- is passed to the right. For large groups, have more than one of each on the table.
Food of any kind is served from the left of a diner. When food is cleared, it is done from the right.
At the end of the meal, knifes and forks should be placed on the plate in the 4:20 position of a clock. This is the "I am finished" position and signifies non-verbally to the waiter or host that you have finished eating.
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (www.AMLGroup.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.