Silverware Semaphore

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Person signaling with fork and knife

Speaking with your mouth full is without question the antithesis of manners. But what many don't realize is that there’s plenty you can say at a meal without speaking a word. Instead, dashing diners let their utensils do the talking.

Though a place setting may have several different utensils (salad forks, fish forks, soup spoons, etc.) the dinner fork and knife are the only two required to communicate wordlessly with the wait staff.

Pausing during the meal

When taking a break from the meal, you can inform the wait staff not to clear your plate by leaving the knife across the top of the plate, and the fork at the 4:00 position (of the clock) with the times facing up. Additionally, if leaving the table, place the napkin in your chair, not on the plate or the table.

After the meal

When finished with the meal, place both the knife and fork on the plate at the 4:00 position, side by side, with the tines up. Where meals are concerned, bear in mind that utensils should never leave the plate, while the napkin should never touch the plate. When finished eating, place the napkin to the left of the plate.

But why?

Talk during a meal should be reserved for charming and sparkling conversation among guests. Communicating such mundane information as whether you’re finished eating or not using the utensils presents an elegant solution that avoids interrupting the flow of the evening (and because semaphore flags prove unwieldy at the dinner table).

*You may have heard that placing the fork and knife in an upside-down “V” at the 4:40 position (of the clock) on the plate indicates you’re pausing during the meal. This is also true; it is the continental style vs. the American style.