Eating utensil etiquette

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Eating utensil etiquette covers the prescriptive systems of rules, etiquette, in various cultures for using eating utensils.

Chopstick etiquette[edit]

In many East Asian cultures, it is impolite to point with chopsticks. It is also considered impolite to leave chopsticks resting in a bowl when not in use, and instead should be laid beside the meal. Leaving chopsticks in a bowl is believed to resemble offerings to the deceased or spirits.

Fork etiquette[edit]

Dinner fork

When used in conjunction with a knife to cut and consume food in Western social settings, two forms of fork etiquette are common. In the European style, the diner keeps the fork in his or her left hand, while in the American style the fork is shifted between the left and right hands. The American style is most common in the United States,[1] but the European style is considered proper in other countries.[2][3]

Originally, the traditional European method, once the fork was adopted as a utensil, was to transfer the fork to the right hand after cutting food, as it had been considered proper for all utensils to be used with the right hand only. This tradition was brought to America by British colonists and is still in use in the United States. Europe adopted the more rapid style of eating in relatively modern times. [4]

European style[edit]

The European style is to hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. Once a bite-sized piece of food has been cut, it is conducted straight to the mouth by the left hand. For other items, such as potatoes, vegetables or rice, the blade of the knife is used to assist or guide placement of the food on the back of the fork.[5] The tines remain pointing down.

The knife and fork are both held with the handle running along the palm and extending out to be held by thumb and forefinger. This style is sometimes called "hidden handle" because the palm conceals the handle.

American style[edit]

In the American style, also called the zig-zag method or fork switching, the knife is initially held in the right hand and the fork in the left. Holding food to the plate with the fork tines-down, a single bite-sized piece is cut with the knife. The knife is then set down on the plate, the fork transferred from the left hand to the right hand, and the food is brought to the mouth for consumption. The fork is then transferred back to the left hand and the knife is picked up with the right.[1][6] In contrast to the European hidden handle grip, in the American style the fork is held much like a spoon or pen once it is transferred to the right hand to convey food to the mouth.[5]

Hybrid style[edit]

Etiquette experts have noted that the American style of fork-handling is in flux, often being replaced by a hybrid of the traditional American and European styles. In this new style, the fork is not switched between hands between cutting and eating, but may be deployed "tines-up" as a scoop when convenient.[5]

Southeast Asian style[edit]

The South East Asian style is similar to the European style, wherein the spoon is held in the right hand throughout consumption (except with certain dishes when a fork is more suitable). The difference is that a spoon is often used in the right hand and knives are rarely used. Rice and soups are a staple of the diet in South East Asian countries, so using a spoon would be practical in such dishes. The spoon is the main utensil in bringing food into the mouth, in tandem with using a fork. The spoon could also be used for manipulating food in the plate and as an alternative for a knife. Often dishes require slicing before serving or sliced into small portions before cooking to relinquish the use of a knife.

Placement of forks[edit]

Tables are often set with two or more forks, meant to be used for different courses; for example, a salad fork, a meat fork, and a dessert fork. Some institutions wishing to give an impression of high formality set places with many different forks for meals of several courses, although many etiquette authorities regard this as vulgar and prefer that the appropriate cutlery be brought in with each course.[7]

It should not be necessary for the diner to distinguish between types of forks; forks are used in order from outside to inside, with the exception of oyster forks, which are placed on the right side, the tines nested in the bowl of a spoon.[citation needed]

Resting and finished positions[edit]

Setting the knife and fork handles in a 5 and 7 o'clock position with the fork tines turned downwards on the plate is used to indicate to the server or host that the diner has not yet finished with the meal, while placing them together, with the fork tines turned up and the blade of the knife facing inwards, is used to indicate that the diner has finished.[8]


  1. ^ a b "How to Use a Knife, Fork, and Spoon". CuisineNet Diner's Digest. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
  2. ^ "we are the only country in the world whose inhabitants shift the fork, after cutting, from the left hand to the right" Letitia Baldrige's new manners for new times: a complete guide to etiquette, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003, p. 195.
  3. ^ "...eating the European way, with fork in left hand and knife in right, is considered the correct way. Most Europeans have had enough contact with Americans to know that they have a different way of wielding a knife and fork. Still, some older Swedes may interpret a fork in the right hand as less-than-perfect manners." Christina Johansson Robinowitz & Lisa Werner Carr, Modern-day Vikings: a practical guide to interacting with the Swedes, Intercultural Press, 2001, p. 147.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-09-26. Retrieved 2011-09-18.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ a b c Vanhoenacker, Mark. "Put a Fork in It". Slate Magazine. The Slate Group. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  6. ^ Martin, Judith (1997). Miss Manners' basic training : eating. New York: Crown. ISBN 9780517701867.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1998-01-25. Retrieved 2011-10-27.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Martin, Judith (2005). Miss Manners' guide to excruciatingly correct behavior. New York: Norton.

Further reading[edit]

  • From Hand to Mouth, Or, How We Invented Knives, Forks, Spoons and Chopsticks, and the Manners to Go with Them by James Cross Giblin. New York: Crowell, 1987.
  • The Evolution of Useful Things by Henry Petroski. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
  • The History of Manners by Norbert Elias. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.

See also[edit]