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Dining Dilemmas: What the Hell Do I Do With All These Utensils?

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LAist will tackle some issues regarding dining, etiquette, tipping, etc. The information is compiled from etiquette classes, books, newspaper articles, and experience. Any and all questions can go in the comments section. Part 1 can be found here.

Have you ever gone to a restaurant or reception where they give you a fork, a spoon, a knife, and a glass, except there are three or four of each? Why and how did we even decide on what to use and when to use them? Hundreds of years ago, European traders dealt with tribes in Africa, South America, and Asia for trade and commerce. These tribes often ate food with two or three fingers from their right hand, which prevented the spread of diseases, viruses, and illnesses. Most Europeans at the time were eating with their hands and knives, and garnered a reputation as barbarians (funny how that works, since the Europeans regarded the others as barbarians and uncivilized). In order to present themselves in a more appealing manner, Europeans tried to incorporate utensils into their meals as well. Most could not use chopsticks (we'll save that for another entry), introduced blunt knives to the table (which were less threatening), and discovered a very practical utensil called the fork somewhere in Italy. Silverware made its way into the homes of many after the Industrial Revolution and that is where common plating and setting techniques were developed, most of which remain the same even today.

The actual etiquette for each utensil is very detailed and not very practical for most dining in Los Angeles, so we will only go into the very basics. The easiest rule to remember is the "outtie-innie" rule for utensils. We work our way from the outermost utensils and work our way in. Occasionally you will go to a restaurant where they redo the plating for each course, but usually they will only replace the plate and remove the silverware used. Common rules dictate that you usually won't see more than three forks, three knives, four glasses, and the additional plate/utensils required for the bread and butter, and dessert..

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The place plate (or charger) and utensils are often approximately one inch from the edge of the table, and if the first course has not been served, the napkin can usually be found on the plate. Sometimes this place plate doubles as the service plate (or liner), which is used to place your additional courses on, rather than being used for actual food. If you are unsure, take your time and watch what others are doing and follow suit. If a course is already out on the plate, the napkin will be found on your left, along with all the forks. The only instance a fork might be found on the right side is the oyster fork, which is used for eating oysters (surprise!). The other forks on your left are used for the salad/appetizer and main course. Oftentimes there is only one spoon on your right, reserved for the soup. Knives (with cutting edge towards the plate) are for appetizer, fish, and meat, or fish, meat, and salad. Additional knives for other courses are often brought out with the course. The butter plate is often the smaller plate found on the left and above your forks/place plate. The utensils found here are used for the bread and butter.

Here comes the easy part. The dessert spoon and/or fork are much smaller than your average utensil, and are usually brought out after everything else is cleared. If not, it can be found right above your place plate. All these glasses in front of you look different for a reason as well. They are used for water, white wine, red wine, champagne. Soda and alcoholic beverages often come separate in different glasses, and are not poured at the table. The use of all the glasses (for white wine, red wine, all-purpose wine, flute champagne, tulip champagne) is VERY rare in Los Angeles, so you don't have to worry. And this is the easiest part to figure out because the server pours the glasses for you (if you can't differentiate between white wine, red wine, and champagne, then you have a bigger problem)! It is more likely to be seen at wedding receptions, galas, and black-tie affairs but not quite as often in restaurants in this area.

Photo by Patrick LA via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr