Dining Etiquette Part 1 – American vs. Continental Style

My first foray into blogging began as a junior in college, while studying abroad in Barcelona through CEA, where I took a journalism course and as part of the curriculum had to start a blog. One piece I wrote focused on dining etiquette, and I thought I might use that as the inspiration to write a series of blogs on the topic. I hope you enjoy (and maybe even learn a thing or two).

We’ll start off with a little bit of philosophy on utensils. In New York, you’re likely to encounter one of two styles, the American (“Zigzag”) style or the Continental (“European”) style. Both methods involve holding the knife with your dominant hand and the fork with your weak hand. The difference is that in the American style, you then switch the fork from your weak to your dominant hand before eating, whereas in the Continental style you eat while keeping the fork in your weak hand, eliminating the need to switch hands. It is for this reason that the Continental style is considered to be a bit more efficient, however, both styles are perfectly acceptable, so long as you are consistent.

The way you set your utensils down on the plate indicates to the waitstaff whether you are finished with your meal or simply resting, and the American and Continental styles also differ in this regard as well. In the American style, when resting, the knife is set (blade in) on the upper right side of the plate in the 4 o’clock position, and the fork (tines up) is set on the left side of the plate in the 8 o’clock position. The knife is also placed in this position when switching your fork to your dominant hand to eat. When finished, the knife (blade in) and the fork (tines up) are set parallel on the right side in the 4 o’clock position. Please refer to the graphics below for a visual aid.


In the Continental style, when resting, the knife and fork are crossed in the center of the plate (blade still in, but this time tines down). When finished, the knife and fork are set in the same position as in the American style, parallel and on the right side of the plate in the 4 o’clock position, however with the fork’s tines facing down, as is illustrated below.


When it comes to spoons, both styles are identical: scoop away from your body and, if the bowl is set on top of a plate, set it on the right side of the plate when finished, otherwise set it in the bowl. If using a spoon to eat dessert, and if a fork is also provided, the fork (in your weak hand) should be used to push the dessert onto your spoon (in your dominant hand). The dessert is then eaten from the spoon. This is more similar to the Continental style of eating with a knife in fork, but in this instance the rule applies to both styles. When finished with dessert, treat the spoon as your knife and follow the rules previously stated above.

That should cover the majority of the nuances of the American vs. Continental etiquette styles. If you enjoyed the article and would like to read the original, please use this link. I even mention one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Barcelona, Da Greco, which surprisingly doesn’t have a website. Perhaps I’ll write a full review sometime soon. Please note that the images in this blog were pulled from this Huffington Post article.

Bonus: Can you spot what’s wrong with the featured picture comparing American and Continental styles of dining etiquette? Read part 2 to find out!