Having dealt in greater detail the part relative to How to dress a table, the first step in creating the perfect Mise en Place, I now want to give you the major elements, differing according to the occasion, so that a hostess should always know how to behave in the best possible way, bearing in mind that there is no single standard but rather that much depends on the situation and the types of persons to whom you relate. “Etiquette”, being itself a set of rules of behaviour, can sometimes appear to be a paradox, but in reality knowing these rules makes personal interactions easier. In fact following certain rules reduces embarrassment, misunderstandings, errors and allows one to control one’s own reactions and emotions so as to avoid any unpleasant consequences for ourselves and others. Etiquette is not the enemy of friendliness but rather makes a glue between the guests, seated at the same table, which creates conviviality through harmony, empathy and reciprocal good-will.
This is why it is important to know how to manage diverse situations and succeed in putting our guests at ease.
AN INFORMAL MISE EN PLACE (Table Setting)
Your table does not always need to be prepared with strictness and maximum attention. In fact there are many occasions when you can allow yourself to be more relaxed, such as a dinner for friends or family. For an informal dinner among friends it is better to offer a table set with creativity, combining more forms, colours and materials than usual. The techniques of table dressing are driven by logical criteria and the first is that of order-of-use.
For the cutlery, one always starts with those furthest from the plate to be served first and then one continues using the next inwards for each subsequent course. The spoon should be placed adjacent to the right side, with the concave part upwards, when minestrone or soup is the first course.
The positioning of the knife is to the left of the spoon with the blade towards the plate to avoid injury and to be directly on the side you will use for cutting food.
Forks are always placed to the left of the plate with the points upwards, except when serving pasta when the fork for that course is positioned on the right of the plate.
The use of cutlery, remembering to always start from the outside, always follows the order of antipasto, fish and meat. One never should place more than three knives or forks on the sides of the plate; in those cases where you may need extra sets of cutlery, bring them to the table at the time of their use, carrying them on a clean plate. The knife and fork to be used last will be closest to the plate, not less than 1 cm away.
You can follow these instructions in those cases where you have special guests with whom you may not have particularly close acquaintance. For a formal meal it is always better to enhance it by using the best materials such as porcelain, silver and crystal.
The glasses are aligned above and on the right side above the knives and placed in the following order towards the left:
. White wine
. Red Wine
. with the glass for dessert wines or flutes placed at the back.
Glasses are taken in the right hand, moving it from the outside, and taking care not get the sleeve caught in the plate. If you have a left-handed guest you may invert the placement and they can then take the glass in their left hand.
The bread-plate (or side-plate) is positioned above and to the right of the forks, while the dessert cutlery is placed in the space above the plate with the pieces inverted so as to avoid catching.
In those cases where you have pre-arranged the seating, such as a formal meal, it is a good idea to put in place name-cards which should be positioned above the dessert cutlery to attached to the napkins in a way which can be quite creative such as with a small decoration, aromatic herbs or a small gift for the guests.
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Cheese knives are usually not placed on the table but brought there on the plates on which the cheese will be eaten (usually cheese is not placed on the plate but directly onto small pieces of bread or special biscuits and is generally served only at dinner)
In the event that your menu includes fish courses and you do not have the correct cutlery, I recommend that you serve the course with the fish already filleted and place only a fork on the table which can then be used with bread or grissini.
Other useful generalisations to remember are to have salt (and for English pepper) for every two sets of guests (four people) and a jug of water and bottle of wine for every four persons. Wine should always be served in its bottle (the exception being very old red wines which must be decanted to avoid the sediment in the bottom of the bottle) so that guests can read the label for its information.
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Obviously all this information should be reflective of the type of menu you are proposing.
I have also thought about this and you can find the relevant information under How to Choose the Menu.
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