Table bon ton: tips for making a good impression

Before directions on how to arrange glasses, plates and cutlery and how to behave, when many of the formalities of the past have been lost, I think it is nevertheless useful to brush up on what etiquette says on the subject.

Certainly knowing good manners is one way to demonstrate good manners and respect for others: certain principles still apply today and in my opinion will always apply. 

Tablecloth and napkins

For a formal event it is best to choose a plain tablecloth and then either white linen (very genteel) or buckram. In both cases the durable fabrics allow vigorous washing and thus ensure their long use over time. Important is the size of the tablecloth in relation to the size of the table. It should not be risqué nor too long so much that it disturbs guests once they are seated. The side drop should not exceed 50 cm. per side.

Napkins should match the tablecloth, that is, of the same fabric, if you decide to use paper ones, preferably a solid color that matches well with the color of the tablecloth and plates.

The napkin can be placed to the right, left or above the plate, but never, below the cutlery.

The tablecloth to be used for an informal reception can be cotton, linen, brightly hued or plain, but again the important thing is that it fits the type of dinner and goes well with the dishes. Napkins are best matched to the tablecloth and folded in a simple or more artistic way.

As soon as one sits down, the napkin should be placed on the legs, always. It should be used whenever you decide to drink since it is unpleasant to see the glasses on the table greasy or with lip prints. Never tie it around the neck of even the youngest babies; for toddlers there are special bibs with a baby food catcher.


Fork on the left, arranged in order of use, from the outside in, knife on the right with the blade facing the plate, and spoon to the right of the knife. From appetizer to main course, the cutlery to be taken first is always the outermost one, a rule that applies to both fork and knife. on the left the forks, arranged in order of use, from the outside in; on the right the knives with blade facing inward; and finally, outermost the spoon

During meal breaks, it is a good idea to place the fork and knife on the plate in the position of the clock hands at 8:20 p.m. while at the end of the meal the cutlery should be placed facing each other in the parallel position at 6:30 p.m.

Using the coffee spoon: coffee should be stirred gently from the bottom up, immediately afterwards it is good practice to place the spoon, even if dirty, directly on the saucer.

Goblets and glasses

The maximum number of glasses allowed by etiquette is five; however, one does not always have tables large enough to hold them all, so the minimum is to have at least one glass for water and one for wine. The tradition in both the home and the restaurant industry was to have the large goblet for water, the medium goblet for red wine, the slightly smaller goblet for white wine, the flute for sparkling wine, and the classic small goblet for sweet wine. Today in both the private and restaurant sectors, a nice glass (without a stem) is preferred for water, while there remain goblets for wines sometimes even two for reds, one slightly larger and bulging than the other for more structured and aged reds. The correct arrangement calls for the water glass to be placed in the direction of the tip of the knife, immediately afterwards continue to the right with the wine glasses, giving precedence to the red wine glass, followed by the white wine glass, placed slightly closer to the diner, a little further behind the dessert glass. The glasses are never cleared but left at the table.

In the case of informal invitations and in any case for convivial gatherings among friends, one can also opt for the universal goblet (each glassware suggests its own model), which goes more or less well with every type of wine, from bubbles to reds, and which also simplifies our set-up, since it can be combined with any water glass, even decorated or colored.


The underplate should not be missing on an important occasion and should always remain on the table.

Already arrange the small plate for the appetizer on the flat plate and then bring to the table the fondine already filled with the soup. To serve pasta and risotto, the flat plates should be used, but if you don't have enough of the same service go ahead and use the soup bowls. To take the last spoonfuls of broth, the plate should be tilted toward the center of the table; this is to have more mastery of the gesture and not risk spilling everything.

Bottles and jugs

On formal occasions bottles and pitchers should be placed on a trolley or side table next to the dining table. Or they can be arranged on the table within reach of guests.

How do you sit at the table? The posture is with a straight back without ever resting the elbows on the table. The arms go along the sides and only the hands on the tablecloth, or table.

''Enjoy your meal' According to etiquette we do not say: a smile is enough. Noting this, we think that in this day and age, setting the table is a convivial pleasure, so a few exceptions are more than forgivable!

When you can start eating: It is obligatory to wait until all guests are served and the hosts begin their meal. Never touch food with your hands, except for bread and breadsticks, which should be broken first anyway and then brought to your mouth. After breaking the bread, it should be placed on the small saucer placed to the left of the dining place.

The cell phone: no talking on the phone while at the table, no texting. Use of the phone to take pictures of dishes and wines is forgiven, I of course do and could not say otherwise, perhaps adding a few words of appreciation or information if we have them.


According to etiquette, one should say neither "cheers" nor "cheers," but only raise the glass with outstretched arm at face level and nod, perhaps with a smile, and remember: if one touches a glass, one should do so with all the diners present!

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