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So, Why Does the Fork Go On the Left Side?

Never forget proper table-setting etiquette again

Photo credits: Unica Party Rentals

By Renee Frojo, Marketing Lead

Ever wondered why the fork is traditionally placed on the left side of the plate at a formal dinner? You're not alone. Even the experts sometimes pause to ponder the peculiarities of table setting customs. 

We decided to have a little fun and asked our event specialists at Unica Party Rentals to guess the reasons behind these traditional placements—without the help of Google.

Natalie, our sales manager, theorized that it's because the order of eating a meal subtly mirrors the way we read English—left to right. Event specialist Javier, on the other hand, kept it simple: maybe it's just easier to grab that way? 

While Javier wasn’t too far off, our team's answers remind us that sometimes, the ways of old are not just about practicality but about tradition. And the little idiosyncrasies that make dining etiquette a topic of endless fascination. (For us, at least!)

So, why is the fork placed on the left? We sliced through history and etiquette to uncover not just the how's, but the whys of table setting, ensuring your next event’s dining presentation is both functional and fascinating.

A very brief history on the etiquette of Western table setting

The traditional table setting as we know it today has evolved from European aristocracy. They were the first to refine the art of dining to reflect status, sophistication, and etiquette. 

As such, the arrangement of tableware is intended to provide ease and efficiency to diners, enabling a smooth flow through courses without confusion.

Okay, but why does the fork have to go on the left side?

Originally, when forks first became popular in Europe, diners would only have a fork and a knife. The fork was held in the left hand and used for holding food in place while the right hand wielded the knife to cut. This is because the majority of people were (and still are) right handed, and the important thing was the ability to have good control of your knife.

As you’ve probably noticed, forks are designed with tines that efficiently spear and lift food, which complements the cutting action of a knife held in the right hand. 

And last, but not least, placing the fork on the left also helps in maintaining symmetry and balance in formal table settings. which reflects a meticulous and considered approach to hospitality. And that is something all event industry professionals live by. 

(Side note: In Europe, it’s still bad manners to hold your fork in the right hand.)

Photo credits: Unica Party Rentals

In case you forgot, here’s where everything else goes:

  • Little forks: There are two types of little forks: A salad fork and a dessert fork. The salad fork goes to the left of the place fork. The dessert fork is centered above the plate.

  • Knives: Placed to the right of the plate with the blade facing inward, which is both a safety measure and a signal of trust towards the host. (Another interesting fact: Women were not allowed to hold knives in the olden days, so they had to have their men cut their food for them!)

  • Spoons: Also placed on the right side, outside of the knives. First goes the soup spoon. The tea spoon is placed to the right of that. And if you have a dessert spoon, that goes above the dessert spoon on top of the plate.

  • Glassware: Positioned above and to the right of the dinner plate for easy access to beverages.

  • Napkins: Typically placed on the left of the fork or on the plate for formal settings, indicating the start of a meal when unfolded.

Here’s a great diagram in case you need a visual. 

Is it ever okay to switch things up?

The short answer is yes. 

While traditional Western etiquette gives you a foundation, modern settings can vary based on the type of event, cultural practices, or personal preference. 

For instance, in many Eastern cultures, you’ll find a completely different setup involving chopsticks and communal dishes. In places like China or Korea, food is put in the middle of the table instead of in front of each individual. And chopsticks are on the right because it’s considered rude to be on the left. 

Part of the reason for the food placement is because Western cultures prioritize individualism, autonomy and personal preference. While Eastern cultures put a bigger emphasis on community, collective harmony and familial ties.  

Interesting, isn’t it?

Things you didn’t know you needed to know.

And now, if someone asks, you can look super smart and knowledgeable!

But in all seriousness: Understanding why each piece of cutlery has its place at the table not only prepares you to create elegant tablescapes for your events, it enriches the dining experience for your guests. 

Whether you adhere strictly to traditional etiquette or infuse your own style, the way you set your table can leave a lasting impression.

At Unica Party Rentals, we believe that every detail counts — from the placement of your forks to the selection of your centerpieces. 

Ready to let us help you make your next event not just memorable, but remarkable? You can reach us here!


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