When you’re dining at a restaurant and want to tell the server you’ve finished with your plate, what’s the best way to communicate? Instead of interrupting your conversation with other table guests, send a message with your utensils.

Trained servers who have worked in the restaurant industry for quite some time understand various signals to provide their guests the best service. When you dine at a restaurant, you expect a familiar routine. The host seats you at your table, your server stops by to greet you and take your drink order, you order food, your server checks in on you, then you request the check. Servers are familiar with this pattern and follow guest queues to deliver excellent service.

Guests can express their needs through different signals. Some of these include closing the menu when you’re ready to order, holding up your index finger when you’re ready for the check and using your utensils to communicate when you’ve finished eating.

The term for using utensils to convey information to your server is “resting utensil etiquette,” and you’ll see it all over the world. Different areas and cultures have created various patterns to place utensils while dining to signal messages to a server.

The dining style determines the resting utensil etiquette you use. In the United States, the two common dining styles are American and Continental. Both forms are polite, and servers commonly understand these resting utensil etiquette signals.

Using resting utensil etiquette and basic table manners are essential to the dining process. Practicing table etiquette shows respect to the server and other guests. It also leaves people with an excellent impression of your character and can improve your social skills.

You can tell the server when you’re taking a break from eating or if you’ve finished with your plate by manipulating your fork and knife. Learn about both dining styles and see which one you are more comfortable practicing.


American Style of Eating

People in the United States and Canada regularly use American-style dining etiquette. The process of cutting food and taking a bite includes four steps.

People outside the United States and Canada believe the four steps are excessive because they involve transferring the fork between the diner’s hands instead of keeping it in the same hand. This process is why American-style dining is also known as the “zig-zag” method.

Master these four steps to enjoy the American-style dining method.

Step 1

Cut your food by piercing it with your fork, with the tines facing down. Place your index finger on the back of your fork and the other on the top of your knife.

Step 2

Once you’ve cut a bite of food, place your knife at the top of the plate. The knife’s blade should face you — leaving it pointing toward your table guests could come off as an insult.

Step 3

Now that you’ve placed your knife down, your right hand is empty. This step is where the “zig-zag” method nickname comes from. Move your fork from your left hand to your right. Put the pieces of food onto the fork with the tines facing upward. Then, place your left hand in your lap.

Step 4

Now, it’s time to enjoy your meal. Lead your fork to your mouth and savor the bite. Remember to keep your left hand in your lap until it’s time to repeat the process.

While you’re dining, it’s polite to cut and eat one bite at a time. However, it’s appropriate for younger children to cut their food all at once and enjoy their meal.

American style is a slower dining process due to the need to transfer the fork between bites. Primarily, you move the fork to your right hand because more people are right-handed. Left-handers would follow the same process but reverse the fork and knife placement.

You know the technique for eating, but it’s essential to know the meanings of utensil placement on your plate.

Servers can “read” your plate to know if you’ve finished eating or are taking a break. If you’re using American-style dining practices, it’s crucial to know the proper utensil resting positions.

Once you’ve started eating your meal, your utensils should never touch the table. They should only rest on your plate. Remember this rule while dining, so your server can understand your utensil positions.

Resting Position: American Style

During your meal, you might want to take a break from eating. Whether you need to carry on an elaborate conversation, take a moment to rest or excuse yourself from the table, you want to show you haven’t finished your meal yet.

Tell your server you’re taking a rest by putting your knife at the top of your plate, the same way you would while taking a bite and placing your fork on your plate in the 4 o’clock position.

Continental Style of Eating

Europeans used to dine with American-style techniques, but they didn’t like the cumbersome step of transferring the fork between their hands. They decided to streamline it, and the Continental style of eating became increasingly popular.

Continental style, also known as European style, follows only two steps for the dining process.

It’s easy to master these two steps to use Continental-style etiquette correctly.

Step 1

Start by holding your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right hand. Place your index fingers on the back of your fork and the top of your knife. Then, pierce the food with your fork and cut it.

Step 2

After you cut your food, bring your right hand back and rest your wrist at the edge of the table. Please don’t place your knife down. Hold it steady as you eat. Then, bring your fork to your mouth, tines facing down, and taste the bite.

Repeat those two steps for the remainder of your meal. Continental-style dining can be easier to master than American style because the process has fewer steps, and you’re always holding onto your utensils.

Your knife can also assist in pushing food onto your fork from any side on your plate that doesn’t require cutting.

It’s essential to remember that the fork tines always remain pointed down in Continental style, even when you bring your food to your mouth.

You understand the correct process for the Continental style of eating, but how do you place your utensils down while taking a sip from your drink or when you finish your meal?

Waitstaff worldwide understand Continental- and American-style utensil positions, and the resting utensil placements are crucial to communicating correctly with your server.

Similar to American-style dining, you should only place your utensils on your plate once you’ve started eating. Resting the utensils on the table is impolite and can be more unhygienic.

Resting Position: Continental Style

You’re going to need to take breaks during your meal. Whether you want to excuse yourself from the table or use your napkin to wipe food off your face, you won’t be holding your utensils the entire time.

To signal to your server that you are still working on your meal, rest your knife and fork on your plate in diagonal positions facing each other. This placement will look like an “A” or an upside-down “V.” This utensil placement will prevent the waiter from removing your plate if you step away from the table.

When you’re ready to have your server take your plate away, tell them by placing your knife and fork next to each other and facing the 4 o’clock position.

American Style vs. Continental Style

American- and Continental-style dining techniques are acceptable to use while enjoying a meal. When you choose a style you prefer, use it throughout the entire meal. It might confuse your server if you switch between the two.

When selecting a dining style, take note of the similarities between American and Continental:

You’ll decide on your dining preference likely because of the differences between American and Continental style:

The difference between American and Continental is also apparent in the table setting. While setting the table before a meal isn’t as typical anymore at home, it’s helpful knowledge when you are at a restaurant and need to know which utensil to use for a dish.

Three-Course Table Setting

You place the utensils in the order of when to use them during the meal. For a three-course meal in the United States, starting from the left, you place the salad fork, dinner fork, plate, dinner knife and salad knife. You then place a napkin on top of the plate.

In a European three-course meal, it’s common to eat your salad after your entree. This difference changes the table setting by moving the dinner fork and dinner knife to the outside of the salad fork and salad knife.

Five-Course Table Setting

A five-course meal typically adds a fish course and soup. For a five-course meal in the U.S., you would place a salad fork, fish fork, dinner fork, plate, dinner knife, fish knife, salad knife and soup spoon.

The table setting for a European five-course meal would place a fish fork, dinner fork, salad fork, plate, salad knife, dinner knife, fish knife and soup spoon.

Asian Dining Styles

As you travel the world and experience new cultures, it’s essential to understand dining etiquette in the country you’re visiting. An action that is polite in the United States may be offensive to someone in another country.

The most exciting part about traveling is trying new foods. If you’re visiting an Asian country, you can look forward to sampling an array of delightful cuisine. Learning the dining styles in other countries will help as you meet new people and dine with them.

Follow these dining etiquette tips for other countries to have a fun and successful trip.

Dining etiquette is unique in many countries, which stems from their history and culture. Familiarizing yourself with a country’s table settings, utensils and appropriate manners will help you make strong connections through dining and traveling.

Experience Fine Dining at the USS Nemo

When you practice table manners and dining etiquette, you set yourself up for success in making meaningful connections. People worldwide enjoy and celebrate food. This appreciation makes the dining experience influential to people’s lives.

If you love fine dining and delicious meals, savor award-winning cuisine at the USS Nemo. Located in Naples, FL, the USS Nemo creates delectable seafood and land dishes. The charming and unique atmosphere impresses guests as soon as they enter the restaurant. The indoor dining room features undersea decor and porthole windows to provide an unforgettable experience. We have an outdoor patio available for our guests with equally exquisite decor.

Come aboard the USS Nemo and delight in an unforgettable fine-dining experience. We are proud to provide meals and beverages that satisfy every guest. To ensure the dining experience of a lifetime, make a reservation for you and your party. Dine with us for lunch, dinner or enjoy cocktails and beverages at our bar. We have inventive dishes for every guest’s taste, and the USS Nemo staff will deliver excellent service. We look forward to having you dine with us.