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Impress guests with holiday etiquette 101

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Impress guests with holiday etiquette 101

Forks go to the left of the dinner plate.

Photo contributed/


POSTED October 21, 2011 12:02 a.m.

You’ve spent the entire day in the kitchen cooking the perfect holiday meal. But it’s an hour before your guests arrive and you find yourself standing in front of the table listening to that little nagging voice inside your head.

Do the water glasses go to the right or left? What side does the knife go on? Should you go ahead and put food on the table before guests arrive, or wait until everyone gets there?

“We hear from so many panicked people this time of year looking for a crash course in how to set the table and proper manners,” says etiquette coach Jill Slatter. “Most of us are stretched so thin juggling work, school and home that we don’t have time to sit down together for a proper meal except at the holidays, and then the pressure is on to be perfect.”

Slatter is the etiquette expert for Greensboro, N.C.-based Replacements, Ltd., billed as the world’s largest retailer of old and new china, silver, crystal and collectibles. Based on their most frequently asked questions, Slatter shares a holiday etiquette 101 crash course that’s sure to help you impress your guests.

Set the perfect table

Forks to the left, knives and spoons to the right. The sharp side of the knife blade should be turned toward the dinner plate. Only include utensils in your place setting that will be used for the courses you are serving. “If you’re not serving soup or salad, you certainly don’t want an extra spoon or fork in your place setting,” Slatter says. “Not only will those get in the way and create extra work for you, the extra utensils may confuse your guests.” 

The bread plate goes on the left of the dinner plate, glasses on the right.

Wait to pour. Water glasses should be the only glasses filled before your guests arrive. Iced tea, wine and other beverages should be poured once everyone is seated. Wine glasses should be filled halfway, not to the rim.

Salad and bread should be the only food on the table when your guests arrive.

Are you the hostess with the mostest?

Remember, the hostess always sits last.

Passing isn’t just in football. Always pass food around the table counter clockwise to the right and refrain from serving yourself first. Always pass the salt and pepper as a set, even if you’re only asked for one.

Can your guests see each other? Sure those flowers you spent hours arranging for the centerpiece are pretty, but they will only get in the way if your guests have to crane their necks to see each other. Make sure your guests can look over any table adornments.

Be a gracious guest

“There is nothing more disruptive than a cell phone ringing at the dinner table,” says Slatter. “Turn your phone on vibrate, or better yet, don’t even bring it to the table. Holiday gatherings mark the time to enjoy the company of the people you are with, rather than ignore them by chatting with someone who’s not even there.”

Wait for the signal. Your hosts will let you know when it’s okay to begin eating. They may offer a blessing or statement or perhaps start by passing a dish.

If you’re not sure which utensil to use with each course, start on the outside and work in toward the dinner plate.

If you need to excuse yourself temporarily, gently place your napkin on your chair to indicate you will be coming back.

Signify you’re finished with the meal by placing your napkin to the left of the dinner plate, and your fork and knife side by side diagonally across your plate with the sharp side of the knife blade facing inward and the fork tines up.

“Another big question we hear concerns what to do if you accidently break a piece of the host’s dinnerware,” adds Slatter. “You should certainly offer to replace the broken piece especially if it has sentimental value for the host or hostess.”

Slatter says don’t lose hope if your host doesn’t know the name of the pattern or the manufacturer; you can always take advantage of Replacements’ free pattern identification service.

If you’re still in doubt about holiday etiquette 101, help is just a mouse click away. You can watch more of Slatter’s tips on Replacements’ YouTube channel. You can also find cheat sheets of place setting guides diagramming how to set the table for various meals at the company’s website, www.replacements.com. Bon appetit!

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