Did you know? For formal European style, spoons are set with bowls facing down and forks with tines down. That's why some flatware features decorative flourishes on the back.
Plates This meal starts with soup brought to each diner. The small plate on top is for a fish course. Salad is eaten after the main course, so the service and dinner plates are removed and salad is brought on its own plate. There's no bread-and-butter plate -- bread is placed right on the table, and butter isn't served.
Flatware The soup spoon is to the right of the knives. Next, working inward from both sides, are the fish knife and fork, then the dinner knife and fork. The salad fork is last. Dessert utensils will be brought to the table when dessert is served; likewise cups and saucers. At many formal dinners, the dessert spoon and fork (latter only if needed) sit horizontally above the plate with the fork closest; the bowl of the spoon faces left; the fork tines face right.
Glasses Stemware is placed on the right side of the setting in the order of service and generally with smaller glasses slightly in front. If coffee is served after the meal, glasses are removed and cups and saucers brought to the table and put in their place.
The butler did it: Basic table traditions
• The plate (with service plate, or charger) forms the centre of the setting, with other items arranged around it.
• Flatware is placed in the order in which it is to be used -- that is, from the outside in, with knives and spoons to the right of the plate and forks to the left. Knives are always placed with the cutting edge facing the plate. Leave about a half-inch space between flatware. Align flatware and plates one inch from the table's edge.
• The most formal table is set with a white linen damask tablecloth (over a pad to protect the table) that falls no more than 18 inches from the edge of the table, and linen damask napkins that are at least 20 inches square. In formal settings, the napkin is placed on the first-course plate or to the left of the forks. There are no rules for its placement at less formal settings; just make sure it's easily accessible.
• According to Emily Post's Etiquette: The Definitive Guide to Manners, Completely Revised and Updated by Peggy Post (HarperCollins, 2004), if you must excuse yourself from the table, set your napkin at the left of your setting in loose folds, soiled parts hidden; don't crumple or fold neatly. Ditto at the end of the meal.
Table manners: Holiday dining etiquette
From semi-formal to chopstick settings, Style at Home has your table manners covered for holiday entertaining.