Does the Napkin Go Under the Fork or the Knife?

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A fancy folded napkin placed in the center of the place setting is acceptable for less formal meals.

The table setting for a multi-course meal can be complex and a little confusing. You may question: Where does the napkin go in a place setting? The placement of the napkin and numerous utensils in each diner's personal space varies depending on the level of the formality of the meal. A guest for a formal meal may become unnerved when the napkin is not under the fork or knife, as he might have experienced in a more casual setting.

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The napkin position varies, depending on the formality of the meal. When setting the table for a formal meal, the napkin is not placed under any of the silverware, but in casual dining, it may be placed under the fork and knife

Formal Place Setting

In a formal place setting, the napkin goes neither under the fork or the knife, but to the left of the of the fork(s) and charger, which is a large decorative plate placed under the dinner plate, or centered on the charger. In general, align the silverware, from the outside to inside, nearest the plate, in the order it is used during the meal. So on the left side of the plate or charger, from left to right, place the napkin, salad fork and dinner fork. On the right side, working from next to the dinner plate to the right, place the knife, spoon, soup spoon and so on.

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In addition, the dessert fork and spoon are placed horizontally above the dinner plate or charger. The tines of the fork point to the right and the bowl of the spoon faces the left. The butter plate is placed to the left, above the napkin and forks, with the butter knife on the plate and its blade facing the diner.

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A charger is not required for formal dining; the napkin may be laid in the spot reserved for the dinner plate if a charger is not used. The napkin may be folded flat, adorned with a napkin ring or made into a flower or other artistic shape and placed on the charger, between the silverware or in the (empty) wine glass.

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Informal Place Setting

Informal dining is a little more relaxed than a formal dinner experience. The placement of the napkin in an informal table setting, according to etiquette, can follow several variations. The first scenario is much like a formal place setting in which the napkin is placed on top of the dinner plate, or if the dinner plate is not yet on the table, in the space the plate will fill.

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The second variation for the napkin's location on an informal table is placement to the left of the forks, which are also to the left of the dinner plate. A third acceptable variation for an informal meal is placing the napkin underneath the forks to the left of the dinner plate. When adhering to the rules of etiquette, the napkin never goes under the knife.

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Napkins and At-Home Dining

Many people do not set the table according to etiquette, do not have multi-course meals on a regular basis and do not own a large dining table that accommodates several forks, knives and spoons for each course. When dining in your own home at a small kitchen table, space may be one of your primary considerations.

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Placing both the fork and knife on top of your folded napkin and placing the napkin to the left of the plate is a commonly accepted practice for a weeknight dinner. Alternately, place the napkin to the left of the plate with the fork on top. The knife and spoon go to the right of the plate, with the knife blade facing to the left.

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Safe Placement of the Knife

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Although the knife is not set next to the napkin in informal or formal, etiquette-driven meals, the knife must be properly placed on the table for safety purposes. When putting the knife to the right of the dinner plate, the blade should be facing the plate to reduce the risk of diners cutting themselves when picking up the spoon.

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