Lest one thinks I am unjustly critical of a novice (see this entry ), I was amused and surprised to see the apparent extent of confusion regarding table settings as evidenced in the new tome by Martha Stewart. In a cursory perusal of the book recently, I noted four different ways to lay the dessert fork and spoon:
In the above photograph, note the position of the spoon and fork above the bowl of risotto. (In an earlier posting I identified this as a bowl of cereal, and was confused about the fork and spoon being used there at breakfast. I spotted my mistake this morning, after ONE MORE review--something that seems lacking in the book.) The fork is above the spoon (tucked tightly against the lay plate)--this is incorrect. The spoon is to be placed above the fork.
If you look closely at the above photograph you will note that the fork and spoon are both facing the same direction, this too is incorrect. The bowl of the spoon should be on the left correctly above the fork, and the fork tines should be to the right (incorrectly placed here).
In this Halloween table setting the spoon and fork are properly one atop the other, but facing in the wrong directions. Who knew there were so many options?
Here again we see the fork incorrectly atop the spoon, but each are correctly facing the appropriate direction (above). Also, when dessert is placed, the server should move the spoon to its place on the right of the dessert plate and the fork to the left; with the spoon beneath the fork, it is more of a challenge to discreetly move the spoon to its appropriate place. If the spoon bowl is facing the wrong direction, the spoon has to be flipped to be properly placed. Too much commotion in these movements could lead to spills and misdirections between guests and servers.
Most surprising of all though was to see the cover photograph displaying an incorrectly placed set of dessert utensils. I'm also surprised that the table is set with mismatched flatware; this is not a mistake or forbidden of course, but for the cover of a book one would think they could find a full set of flatware to use.
Why does any of this matter? Why is this smallest of details important? For one, a properly set table offers information to the guests about how the meal is being staged, how long the meal may last, how many courses to expect. Consistency in setting the table also extinguishes the possibility of surprises at the table; surprises like spilled wine, elbows into food coming to the table, guests' hands and servers' hand colliding on the table to move flatware, etc. The best meals at table are coordinated, balanced affairs where all components of the meal flow seamlessly together, consistently, time after time, from one home to another. Setting the table properly is the foundation for such meals.
Here is a good example of a proper place setting from Martha's Entertaining, just in time for Thanksgiving (although I would move the water glass and put a full tablecloth on that marble table):