knife and fork

How to handle a knife and fork in a restaurant or formal occasions

It’s easy to look like a primeval hunter chopping up your food with a knife and fork. However, at dinner parties, in a restaurant or on formal occasions, it is appropriate to use the cutlery in a classic manner. You can choose between the European (or continental) and the American style. Which one do you prefer?

European (continental) style

Knows that the fork is placed on the left and the knife on the right of the plate.

If you have more than one fork, the outer one is your salad fork and the inner one is for your main dish. The fork for your main course is bigger than your salad fork. We deal with the correct cutlery arrangement in the last section. Now let’s focus on how to hold and eat with the cutlery – the “right” way, of course.

To cut the food on your plate, take the knife in your right hand.

The index finger remains straight and rests on the top of the knife, at the base of the blunt side of the blade. Your thumb is on the side of the knife. The end of the knife should touch the palm of your hand. This stance is the same for both styles, and both are tailored for right-handers. So if you’re left-handed, you should consider always using the other hand.

Hold your fork in your left hand.

The tines point away from you (down). The index finger is held straight and resting on the back of the fork, near the tip of the fork but not so close that you can touch the food. The other fingers grip the handle of the fork. This pose is sometimes referred to as the “hidden grip” method because your hand covers nearly the entire grip.

Bend your wrists so your index fingers are pointing toward the plate.

This will also point the tips of your knife and fork towards the plate. Your elbows should remain relaxed and not in the air or uncomfortable. While we’re on the subject, your elbows should never be on the table. However, if you’re taking a break from using your cutlery or in a casual gathering, you don’t need to stress about it.

Use your fork to hold the food firmly by applying pressure with your index finger.

When you cut, place your knife close to the tip of the fork and cut in a sawing motion. Dishes like pasta require a simple, quick cut, while tough meat may require a little more work. In general, you should only cut off a piece or two. Hold the fork so that the tines are bent toward you and the knife is further away from you than the fork. A small angle is fine too, but make sure you can see your knife clearly as you cut. You should be able to see the knife over your fork.

Use the fork to bring small pieces of food to your mouth.

The tines of the fork should be angled downwards and the bottom of the fork should be facing up. Keep the fork in your left hand, even if you’re right-handed. After a little experimentation, you may find that this method is the more efficient of the two.

American style

Hold the fork in your left hand while cutting.

Unlike the European style, the American style holds the fork more like a pen. The handle rests between your index finger and thumb, middle finger and thumb hold the bottom of the fork while your index finger rests on the top. The prongs should again be aligned, pointing away from you.

Use your knife in your right hand only when cutting.

The hand position is the same as the style mentioned above, the index finger is on the top of the knife and the fingers wrap around the handle.

cut your food

Hold the food firmly with your fork (tines down) and slice through with your knife in a smooth, sawing motion. The fork should be closer to you than the knife. Only cut off one or two pieces at a time.

Now change hands.

Here’s the main difference between the two styles: After you’ve cut a piece, place the knife on the edge of your plate (blade at 12 o’clock, handle at 3 o’clock) and switch the fork from left hand to right. Twist the tines so they curve up and take a bite. This has been the dominant method since the founding of the United States. Europe also used this style but has since evolved, preferring a more efficient approach. This change has not yet made it across the pond, although there are now small differences everywhere.

Except when cutting, you should hold your fork in your right hand with the tines pointing up.

If you’re eating a meal that doesn’t require cutting, keep the fork in your right hand at all times. The tines can be pointing down when you’re taking a bite, but should be pointing up most of the time. However, this only plays a role on really formal occasions, so you shouldn’t really give it too much thought. Your cutlery should never touch the table. If you only use your fork, make sure the knife is on the edge of the plate. When you put your fork down, the handle should be on the edge and the tines should be in the middle of the plate.

Other special features

Understand the arrangement of the cutlery pieces.

For about 95% of meals, you’re probably just dealing with a knife, fork, and spoon. However, on fancier occasions, you may come across some extra pieces of cutlery and wonder what to do with them. So here is a rough overview: A four-piece set of cutlery includes a salad fork, table fork (main course), table knife and a teaspoon for coffee. The salad fork is on the outside and is smaller than the table fork. A five-piece cutlery arrangement includes all of this and a soup spoon. The soup spoon is much larger than the teaspoon. A six-piece cutlery set includes separate knives and forks for each first course (outermost) and main course, as well as a dessert/salad fork and coffee spoon. The latter two are the smallest pieces of cutlery. A seven-piece cutlery arrangement includes all of this and a soup spoon. If you ever see a small fork on the far right (forks aren’t usually on the right), it’s an oyster fork. The cutlery is usually arranged in the order of use. So when in doubt, work your way from the outside in.

If you want to pause between bites, place your eating utensils in a resting position.

There are two different ways to let the waiter know you’re not ready: European style Cross your knife and fork onto your plate, with the fork over the knife, the prongs pointing down. The two pieces of cutlery should form an inverted “V”. American style: the knife is placed on top of the plate, the blade at 12 o’clock, the handle at 3 o’clock. The fork is placed at a slight angle from your body with the prongs pointing upwards.

When you’re done, use your cutlery to signal for the waiter to pick up your plate.

Again, there are two possibilities: European style: knife and fork are parallel to each other, handles point to 5 o’clock, blade and tines (pointing downwards) are in each other. American style. Same as European style, only the tines of the fork point upwards.

You need to be clever when handling rice and other small pieces.

If you don’t have a spoon, you’ll have to try and get your food onto your fork using scooping motions rather than unsuccessfully poking at it. American style relies entirely on a fork (again, less efficient), while Europeans rely on the blade of their knife or a piece of bread.

To eat pasta, you need to roll it up with your fork.

If you have a spoon, use your fork to roll up some noodles and place them on your spoon. If the noodles are particularly long or stubborn, you can cut them with a knife. But before you resort to such means, you should first try to roll up a little less pasta. You should also make sure you have a napkin ready. If you’re having trouble handling pasta, you’re in good company. Even for the most seasoned pasta connoisseur, it’s a messy affair at times. Using the knife and fork properly is less important than not slurping.


Don’t stress yourself too much. Nobody does it 100% the same way. Also, certain dishes require a slightly different approach. As long as you know the basics, don’t worry too much about the details. Don’t spread your elbows! Get in the habit of holding them by the sides of your body. Otherwise, you might bump into your neighbors.


About the Author

Randy Diaz

Randy Diaz is a journalist with a zeal in mobile tech and the online gaming industry. He writes articles, editorials, reviews, round-ups, and how-to tips on a wide variety of topics. He spent several years working in the games industry as a tester and designer. Now he has been writing as a full time freelancer for over three years. He is also a regular contributor to several media, both in print and online.