The American Dining Style

There are four steps used in American dining rather than the two steps in Continental dining.  

The United States was founded on the premise of living life in a unique, independent manner.  And the way we eat is no exception. 

Memory tip:  When eating American style, after cutting a bite, only ONE utensil is in use--the fork. (That is, until you cut another bite, in which case the switching routine begins all over again from the start.)  Overall, your LEFT hand won't have as much to do and it should be placed in your lap when you are eating. 

The Four Steps of American Dining


Step 1

With fork in your left hand and knife in your right hand, cut your food. (The left index finger is placed on the back of the fork with the handle end in the middle of your palm. The index finger of your right hand is placed on the top edge of the knife between the blade and the handle at the juncture point.) 


American Dining Step 1 - Cutting Your Food


Step 2

Keeping your fork in place, lay the knife at the top of the plate.  Make sure the blade is facing you.  It is an affront to other diners to point your blade at them. 


American Dining Step 2 - Knife at the top of the plate


Step 3

Now that your right hand is free, switch the fork from the left hand to right. Holding the fork like a pencil, place the bite onto the fork. Move your left hand to your lap. 



Step 4

Bring the fork to your mouth and enjoy the bite.  (Be sure the bite is of reasonable size, as you want to eat whatever is on your fork in one bite.)



Taking a Break

If you need to pause during the meal - maybe you have a story to tell everyone at the table, or you want to take a drink or have to leave the table for a moment - you will need to place your utensils in resting position on the plate to indicate your pause.

With your knife already resting at the top of your plate, place your fork in the four o'clock position on the plate.

This tells the wait staff that you are not finished with your meal, and they should not remove your plate.


American Dining Resting Position


When Finished With Your Meal

When you are ready for your plate to be removed from the table, there is a utensil placement that signals this as well.

With your fork in the four o'clock position, move your knife down to meet it.

This is the close-out position for American dining.


American Dining Close-out Position


For Lefties

Being left-handed has its challenges.  Fortunately, you can still maintain good table manners with a few tweaks to utensil positions.

Many left-handed individuals choose to make a simple modification to the system described above, with the adjustment in the third and fourth steps.  Summary:  1) Cut with the knife in the right hand.  2) Place the knife at the top of the plate as demonstrated above, with the handle of the knife on the right side.  3) SWITCH after holding the fork in the left hand in cutting position TO PENCIL position with the left hand. (This is a simple rotation involving the left hand only.)  4) Bring the fork to the mouth with the left hand, tines up. 


Other individuals use the following system during the meal to make eating more comfortable. The important thing is to have a system to use every time. 

A properly set table may look like a mine field to a left-handed person. 

Resist the temptation to reset your place as this will only draw attention to you. 

Once the meal begins, you can adjust the utensils as you eat.


When eating in the American style, reverse the utensils in Step 1 above so that the knife is in your left hand and the fork is in your right hand.  

You will also reverse hands in Steps 2 through 4.

It is fine to place your butter knife in position for use by your left hand to spread butter on a bite of roll. (Remember to place the blade toward you).



For resting position, the knife is still at the top of the plate, but in left-handed placement (again, blade toward you). 

The fork is in eight o'clock position instead of four o'clock position.



To close out when finished with your meal, simply bring your knife down to meet the fork at the eight o'clock position.


Want to learn more about dining styles and table etiquette?  Contact me about etiquette classes in Orange, California.  I'd love to work with your group, business or organization.