Etiquette. Where to Place Your Cutlery When You’re Done Eating

You’re out to dinner, you’ve finished your meal, now what?  According to etiquette, where do you put your cutlery when you’re done eating?  You have two proper options and here they are.

Picture it.  You’re out for dinner and you’ve finished with your meal.  You’re done.  At home, you’d simply stand up and wander away from the table knowing full well the dish would disappear, get clean and be returned to the cupboard at some point in the evening.

That’s how it worked for my father anyway.

But in restaurants they like non-verbal clues.  Indications that they can take your dirty plate away.  A sign language of sorts.  The waiter or waitress reads the secret code spelled out through your dirty utensils and napkin.

If the waiter doesn’t happen to see  you licking your plate (which is the International sign of “Yup … thems was good eatin’.  I’m done!“) how are they supposed to know if you’re finished eating?

They know by where you’ve placed your cutlery.  Honestly, they do.

Where do you put your cutlery when you’ve finished eating?


Here ...



or here.


The knife and fork go either straight up and down in the centre of the plate with the handles resting on the rim, or pointing between 10 and 4 o’clock.  In each case the tines of the fork should be facing up, and the knife edge pointing in.

Your napkin should be half heartedly folded to the left of your plate.

Do NOT rest the cutlery on the table.

Do NOT cross the cutlery over each other in an X.

Do NOT put your napkin on your plate.

Do NOT perfectly refold your napkin.

Do NOT put your napkin on your chair.

Do NOT fold your napkin into the shape of a swan or a dead chicken and then leave the restaurant wearing it as a hat.

You are now fully prepared to attend the Royal Wedding.  Have fun.

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Etiquette.  Where to Place Your Cutlery When You\'re Done Eating


  1. Sara says:

    Awww…I grew up in Alabama where people still take etiquette classes. The bottom pic is the preferred method there. :) Can you also do a post on the proper way to set a place setting (if you haven’t already)? It’s a lost art!

  2. Heather says:

    I read Miss Manner’s when I was 12, and she said napkin on your chair if you’re returning, napkin on your plate if you’re done.

    • Karen says:

      Heather – Well, Miss Manners was half right! Napkin on your chair if you’re returning, napkin to the side of plate when done. Putting your nice napkin on a dirty dinner plate is a no no at all times. ~ Miss. Karen

      • tyler says:

        I’m assuming all of this etiquette stuff is only for when the napkin is not paper, because every waiting job I have had, even with cloth napkins, the customer indicates they are done by putting their napkin on the plate. I have never ever seen anyone placing their silverware in 45 degree angles to take one sip either. This seems kind of awkward and strenuous. Eating out is supposed to be an enjoyable time, not one where you are worrying about whether you are eating right or not.

      • Mary-Anne says:

        Depend on the circle you are “in”:) Most of the sophisticated and exposed people do know the Etiquette rules:) And it is actually awkward for them when they realize that you don’t know the rules:)

      • qazwiz says:

        manners should be ingrained by time you are an adult, thus you wouldn’t need to worry about what to do. just like breathing while dining, what you do with the utensils should be automatic

  3. Denise says:

    Your flatware is 10 years old? How do you keep it spotless? Do you hand dry each piece?

    • Karen says:

      Denise – Um. No. I stick it in the dishwasher every night. However, one knife handle has come loose from the blade. That’s *always* the knife I end up getting at dinner. Using it is like trying to cut your steak with a rubber chicken. ~ karen

      • Denise says:

        I get water spots…ug. I buy new every couple years with the intent to always hand dry when emptying dishwasher, but of course that doesn’t last very long..maybe I’ll try a hotter dry cycle. Uh yea, just thought of that. : /

  4. Pam'a says:

    Etiquette is nearly dead. We won’t need it very much longer, though, because everyone will just sit in their houses with TV Dinners and text each other in lieu of going to restaurants.

    This is a real sore spot of mine, having been in the industry for a number of years. For the most part, diners no longer know how to dine, and waiters no longer know how to wait. My particular pet peeve is when the server asks “What can I get you guys?” Expecting that they’ll grasp the finer points of silverware etiquette seems a bit of a leap. ~sigh~ I’m pleased that you shared this.

  5. Tiffany says:

    Hey Karen!
    Just wanted to let you know that a picture of your bookshelf was tagged as inspiration on the fashion blog The Glamourai!! I saw it and got so excited for you! If you haven’t heard of it before, it is a really popular fashion blog with thousands of hits a day. Maybe i’m making a big deal out of nothing, but I just thought it was so cool! If you want to see the post, its from April 1st.
    p.s. I think she might have credited DesignSponge for the picture? Its hard to tell.

    • Karen says:

      Tiffany – Thanks for letting me know! It would be exciting if they actually credited my blog/me but they didn’t. :( ~ karen

  6. Carol says:

    I remember first learning these utensil signals when I was well into my adult years, because I was never taught any of this at home growing up in a house full of savages, I mean ‘boys’. The only thing I learned at home was to eat what’s on your plate fast or someone else will. So I’ve always been an incredibly fast eater who rarely needs to use the ‘resting position’ signal, but is it rude for the waiter to say “wow, you really enjoyed that”, or “wow, you really inhaled that”, I don’t think is very polite is it? Is there etiquette on how fast one eats,,,,or how about putting knife down, switching your fork from left hand to right hand after each time you cut something. Don’t know where I learned this but this is how I always eat anything I cut? Love your cutlery btw, its that classic Hotel Silverware look, wish Costco still had it.

    • Karen says:

      Carol – LOL. Omg, no … no I don’t think that is very polite at all. As far as switching hands w/ your knife and fork goes, switching your fork over to your right hand is American. Keeping your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right throughout the eating process is European. You stab your food with the fork tines down and eat from your left hand. If you’re to take a drink you’re supposed to put both your knife and fork down (in the resting position) and have a sip. BTW, once you’ve started eating with the your cutlery should never touch the table again. Not even the handles. You rest the tips of the utensils in the centre of the plate (crossing tips slightly or at least pointed inwards) and the handles on the rim of your plate. This seems very convoluted but I’m hoping it’ll make sense to you. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you I sense your etiquette will be elevated enough that you won’t yell at me because of it. ~ karen

  7. Antonia says:

    LOL!!! OK, that’s hilarious!!! I love the dead chicken…about the only thing I can make with a napkin!!! (PS…I personally can’t wait to watch the Royal Wedding. I kind of feel obligated to, since my mom made me wake up VERY early to watch Diana and Charles many years ago, when I was a little girl, and I just HAVE to do it again! Will you be doing a blog on the wedding?!)

  8. Eddie says:

    Thanks for sharing this with us! My husband and I go to resturants quite often, and are often horrified at other diners habits, not just in resturants, but at home as well. I think some people just don’t know. And place your napkin on your lap please.

  9. Susan says:

    And even if your flatware is in the correct configuration, should the waitperson remove your plate if your fellow diners are still eating?

    • Karen says:

      Susan – That’s a matter of debate! The majority of people however, say yes … dirty dishes are to be cleared even if everyone hasn’t finished eating. ~ karen

  10. Theadora says:

    I was shipped off to a, “proper British Finishing School” when I was 12 and they taught us that when you were completely finished you crossed your fork tines down over the blade of your knife (blade in) in the center of your plate. This was important since after EVERY BITE you are supposed to ‘ground’ your utensils at a 45 degree angle at the top right hand side of your plate, fork tines up then knife blade in (knife closest to the outside of your plate). Also, “a Lady always leaves food on her plate” so staff requires a cue. Maybe the Britts do it differently but my instructors were very specific.

    • Karen says:

      Theadora – I hate to tell you this because it will kind of shatter your childhood, but your instructors were wrong. Honestly they were. That is absolutely, without a doubt, the position you put your utensils in while you are resting between bites. It isn’t a British / North American thing with this particular cutlery position. A fork, tines down, crossed over the knife is the universal signal of the a resting position. Ask Susan! She’ll tell you. :) ~ karen

      • kathryn says:

        spot on Karen. as a well-raised Brit, i can confirm it’s tines up, always. also more potential for hilarious tom-&-jerry-style catapulting into the air should something accidentally land somewhere it shouldn’t. which is a bonus.
        k xx

  11. Deborah says:

    I miss the days of proper etiquette and basic manners. Your unique blog helps remedy this. I am doing my best to teach my children what I know since I was taught only a little. But in the end, it all helps, I believe, in making a kinder and lovely world to be in.
    Thank you.

  12. Trysha says:

    Guilty, I’m a perfectly refolder.

  13. Andrea Claire says:

    Can you do a post on leg placement that I may put on Oregano’s FB wall. You see, she eats at the table, knees up, one foot on the chair, the other dangling. I’ve tried to correct her for 17 years… well 15 – the first 2 don’t count, and she still does this.

    She’s got the knife and fork thing down though!

  14. Bill Grigg says:

    Aw. I got some of my best hats that way.

    I love it when the waiting staff asks if I’m “done with that” when it’s an empty plate (even the veggies! I’m a good boy!). I always say “No, I’m admiring the pattern”, especially if the plate is solid white.

    • Dean says:

      It’s good manners for the waiting staff to ask if you are done with your plate no matter if it’s empty or not. You retort is simply not amusing, quite belittling and bad etiquette.

      Perhaps it would be better for them to ask ‘may I take your plate’ but them asking whether you are finished with the plate is much more polite than just removing it without asking.

  15. Susan says:

    Karen-Here’s what I found in Emily Post’s Etiquette Advantage in Business:
    *When you pause…cross your fork (tines down) and knife on the plate, angling them so they almost touch at the plate’s top center. This tells the waiter you’re not yet finished.
    (The difference is that the fork/knife form a /\ at the top of the plate when resting.)
    *To signal the waiter that your plate…can be removed, lay the knife and fork side by side in the center to center-right of the plate. In the American style, the tines of the fork face upward; in the Continental style, downward.
    I teach this in a local community college and my
    perfectionist tendencies are on display here so you don’t need to post this…it’s really just a FYI from a fan :)

    • Karen says:

      Susan – You’re going to find this hard to believe (even after being contradicted by Emily Post) but I still maintain tines go up. Is Emily Post etiquette book a newer edition maybe? I have an Emily Post etiquette guide as well and it says nothing about tines down. I re-searched the Internet and found only references to tines up. You may have to photocopy/scan the page from your book and send it to me, LOL. ~ karen

      • Shauna says:

        I’ve always been taught tines down as well, being told it’s “less agressive” – whatever that means.

        Remember Karen, you did teach us that the internet lies ;)

      • Karen says:

        Shauna – This is true. However, Emily Post doesn’t. :) i still like tines up because there is a great differentiation between “resting” (which is always tines down) and “finished” (which is usually tines up). Less room for confusion. Sometimes I like to stab the waiter with my fork when I’m done. No confusion there either. ~ karen

      • Mary-Anne says:

        Hi Karen, I loved it!!! I would like to share it on my page, if you don’t mind. I like your humor too:)

    • Karen says:

      Oh! And yes. Sadly. I’m just that crazy. ~ karen!

      • Cynthia Jones says:

        I only like to stab the waiter if they try to take my coffee cup with my precious one last sip still in it. I have learned more courtesy with age and I now warn them about said potential stabbing as they reach their forearm across the table. After all, It’s only manners!

    • Karen says:

      Here’s Susan’s proof everyone! Emily Post. It’s still the only place I’ve ever seen this, but if Emily says it in even one of her books, (didn’t say it in mine … which I consider to be very poor etiquette) it must be true. ~ karen!

  16. Liz S. says:

    Sometimes I feel like I’m one of the seagulls from Finding Nemo saying “mine mine mine” because the waiter is trying to take my plate full of food. I know I’m a slow eater compared to most people. I’ve always been a slow eater and now I’m helping my son eat too. But please don’t try to take MY plate while I’m still eating!

  17. Susan says:

    Fork tines down are also correct especially if you have used your knife and fork “Continental Style” as opposed to “American or Zig Zag Style.” I agree that most waitstaff are not aware of this subtle language since they often resort to “Are ya still workin’ on that?” Arghhh!

    • Karen says:

      Susan – From what I researched tines down indicates you aren’t finished eating. Unless there’s some loophole somewhere I didn’t stumble upon, every etiquette book and article I researched for this said tines always go up when you’re finished eating. I’m not trying to be argumentative, I just don’t want anyone sitting with a dirty plate. ~ karen

      • Dana says:

        yes! i was a server for many years and we were always told that upside down utensils (tines down) meant that they we could clear their plate. because really, who puts their silverware upside down when they take a break from eating?

      • Bret says:

        I was always taught to turn the tines down (turn your fork upside down) when you were done and place them as you suggest in the photos. The reason I was given is the acids in the sauces and dressings would tarnish the silver so you wanted the least amount of silver just sitting there on the plate.

    • Brandon says:

      This is correct, fork tines down is the correct Continental etiquette, most Americans unfamiliar with etiquette from other countries would unknowingly consider this a faux pas but tines up or down is acceptable.

      Also the “Do NOT put your napkin on your chair” is partially incorrect. In the event that you must leave mid meal (you drank too much wine and need to make a mad dash to the WC), one should place their napkin on their seat, this is yet another signal to the staff that you are temporarily away and will return. Which makes sense, since placing your napkin to the left of your plate is the final signal that you are finished and leaving.

      • Deana says:

        When temporarily excusing oneself from the table one either fold their napkin and drape it over the left arm of their chair, or they just place it with a casual fold on the left side of their plate. Traditionally, one never leaves a soiled napkin on the chair seat, so as not to soil the upholstery.

  18. Huh interesting. I was always told to put my silverware like that, but with the fork tines down. I’ve done that for years. I wonder what message that sends the waiter? Hmmm….

    • Julie Webster says:

      according to the best bathroom reader ever – Tiffany Table Manners for Teenagers – (no one is too old to learn!), they instruct that when one is “done” tines down, with knife blade turned inwards. If you are able to eat the course without aid of your knife (i.e. a stir fry) and the knife never leaves the table, then in this case the tines of the fork are up, not down… who knew! cheers

    • Patti says:

      This is also what I learned. If the tines are up, it means you will still use the fork to accept food.

  19. Ana says:

    Hurrah for proper cutlery placement! This is the way I was taught in Portugal sooo many years ago as a young girl. There, if you don’t put your knife and fork that way, you’ll get served more! YUM!

    Also looking for new silverware here. I’ve been to Home Goods, Target, Kohls, Marshalls, Target and IKEA, and everything is either way too expensive (Kohls), way too fancy for everyday eating (Home Goods) or way too weird (Ikea).

    Will try Costco next.

    • GranTan says:

      Have you tried Canada’s own Paderno? They put out nice stuff, made in PEI 18/10 stainless steel and not overpriced. I have had mine for many years and it looks good and works great! Can be bought at Home Hardware or online from they themselves!! Cheers!!

    • NinaMargo says:

      Nambe. Beautiful contemporary design.

    • Courtney says:

      Try for flatware. Costco will carry a few of their designs, but you can see their entire product line on their website. I own every single thing they’ve ever made in the Windermere pattern with way to many of each!

  20. Amy Schmucker says:

    My mother always told me that you should place your fork upside down on the plate to indicate your done. But when people hold their fork in the left hand and eat with it up side down, then they would have to turn it upside right?

    ah well… I just ask… “ARE you done?” and then I don’t have to worry.


    • Karen says:

      My mother told me the same thing about the upsidedown fork. It’s a pretty obvious signal even if you don’t know any of the rules. It’s just obvious.

  21. Jerrica says:

    I have such a set now, ugh. And we just so happened to join Costco last weekend! Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll have a similar set. Are your blue and white dishes from Costco too? ;) I like the blue willow color.

  22. pve says:

    My husband and I joke that one must lick the plate clean and then place the silverware in the appropriate position for perfect manners.

    • Tina says:

      No, what you do is like your plate clean and set it on the charger or placemat. Then lick the silverware clean and set them beside the plate. Then wipe your face good, resold the napkin and voila, the table is set for the next guest.

  23. Jerrica says:

    My grandmother taught me to place my utensils sideways (between 10 and 4 o’clock) like that when I was done eating. She never told me why, I just thought they were table manners she preferred. But she failed to tell me that the fork should be facing up, and the knife edge pointing in. All this time I was probably indicating I was ready for dessert! And I’m ok with that.

    Where did you get your flatware?I love it!

    • Karen says:

      Jerrica – Costco! (about 10 years ago though) There’s much hipper, cooler flatware out there that I LOVE the look of, but frankly it’s almost impossible to eat with. :/ ~ karen

  24. Bev says:

    But putting your utensils with the knife at 6 o’clock (or half past – depending if you work in hours or minutes) and the fork somewhere between, 7 and 8 o’clock (or 25-20 minutes to the hour), will indicate that you are almost done but enjoying every mouthful and not quite in a closed knife and fork state yet. As soon as you are be sure and tell them with the example in the first photo. OMG! That made WAY more sense in my head!!! x

    (Shuts up now).

  25. Caitlyn says:

    I don’t think most waiters know this rule. They always take my plate away before I’ve given them this non-verbal ques. Then I look like a pig, because really the only thing left on the plate that I could eat is what must be gotten with a tongue. oh well.

    • SusanR says:

      I’ve grabbed their wrists when they tried to take my plate away, while others are still eating at the table. I think it’s incredibly rude to remove one diner’s plate while other diners at the same table are eating.

      After grabbing their wrist, which gets their attention, I whisper to them that I would prefer my plate be left until the other diners have ALL finished eating.

      And I NEVER put my cutlery in the positions to indicate I’m done. Sometimes I’ve even still been holding the fork, if I see a server hovering around like a buzzard, ready to snatch my plate. They’ve been lucky they weren’t stabbed. Accidentally, of course.

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