The Art of Laying the Table the French Way - Part One


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The art of laying  a French table is based on the rules created by the  Court of King Louis XIV,and although lifestyles have evolved and rules have become less rigid, it is none the less useful to use them  to lay an elegant and impeccable table.

Today in Part One, we will talk mainly about the layout of cutlery and glasses. In Part Two we will talk about crockery and linen.  

Dinner knives and forks are arranged at each side of the plate, with the fork on the left and the knife and spoon (if one is needed) to the right. The sharp side of the knife blade must always be turned towards the plate. In France the fork is placed with the prongs facing down towards the table (and the spoon is likewise placed facing downwards); a major difference to many other countries where they face upwards. 

If a meal has several courses, the additional cutlery is arranged on either side of the dinner knife and fork, in the order in which dishes are to be served, working from the outside towards the plate.

Fish knives and forks are still very popular today for their elegant and very distinctive shape. The fish knife is not intended for cutting, but is used to delicately separate the tender flesh of the fish. They can be set on their own or placed either side of the dinner knives and forks if a meat dish is to follow the fish. Fish serving knives and forks are highly desirable as they complement the general decoration of the table and can be stylishly arranged in the middle or on a sideboard while waiting for the serving dish to be brought in.

Dessert cutlery can also be used for the starter. They are placed on each side of the dinner knives and forks, to be used first. Dessert cutlery is arranged around the plate only when the time comes for dessert to be served, except in the United Kingdom (and sometimes in France) where it is laid between the plate and the glasses before the meal. In this case it is laid facing opposite directions, with the prongs of the fork facing right and the blade of the knife and the bowl of the spoon facing left.

It is important to note that the French despite, having a variety of cutlery available,  often use the same cutlery for entrees and mains, using a knife rest to prop up the used cutlery so that the table cloth remains clean.


Glasses are arranged above the plate, from right to left in the order in which wine is to be served: white wine, red wine, water glass and champagne coupe.

In Part Two we will talk about the placement of crockery and linen.

Bon week-end from a sunny SW France, 

Leeann x


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