Expert Commentary: American vs. Continental Style Dining, Which is Better?

Published: Nov. 21, 2005 at 8:32 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 5, 2005 at 3:31 PM CST
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By: Valarie Roberts

During the holiday season, there are always a lot of sit down dinners with friends and family.

Odds are most of you are using the American style when eating. This is when you hold the fork with your left hand and the knife with your right. You would cut a piece of food ( never more than 3 pieces at a time) set the knife down across the top of your plate and switch the fork from your left hand to your right to bring the bite to your mouth. This is also called the zigzag method and may seem like a lot of steps for just one bite of food.

Americans have always been known for doing things in a hurry. The crossing over of the fork from the left to the right hand was an added step given to our forefathers to slow them down at meal time because they were gobbling up their food too quickly.

The other method of dining is called continental style. This is named so because it is accepted all over the world; where as American style is not. With continental style, you cut out all the extra steps and just cut the food (one piece at a time) with the knife in your right hand and the fork in the left, but you twist your wrist around (tines down) to bring the food to your mouth. Many people feel that this European method is more efficient and sophisticated.

Once a knife has been used it is never to be set back on the table. The resting position for forks are at 8 o'clock and knives area at 4 o'clock on the plate. This also lets your waiter or waitress know that you are still working on that course and cuts out any unnecessary questions that interrupt conversation at the table.

If you have to leave the table while eating for any reason, always keep your utensils at this position and leave your napkin in your chair to show that you will be returning. However, a position that is used quite often but is never appropriate is when you lean the fork and knife sideways, half way on the plate and table, this is called oaring.

When a course has been completed you can signify that with your utensils also. Simply by bringing your knife and fork together at 4 o'clock on the plate, this is called "closing your doors". This signals to the waiter or waitress that you are finished with that course and are ready for the next.

When you are finished with the whole meal, you would place your napkin to the left hand side of the plate. This tells the waiters that they can now clear you place. These rules are especially helpful when eating at a buffet.

There may be times when you need to get something you forgot off of the buffet and are not yet finished with your original plate. The wait staff would not be able to ask you if you are finished and may take your plate if they do not know these rules.

So, this holiday season you may take your pick of acceptable styles to eat at the table. Try the continental style, it may seem awkward at first, but you will be surprised by how much easier it really is once you get used to it.