Proper table setting is a reflection of good etiquette. The appropriate table setting depends primarily on if the meal is a formal or informal occasion; placement of all plates, tableware and glasses changes depending on the type of occasion. The salad plate is an important part of any table setting, especially for more formal occasions.
Salad plates are specifically designated for serving salads, a course that usually takes place immediately prior to or after the main course. They are typically smaller than chargers and dinner plates but larger than bread and dessert plates.
Formal Place Settings
In formal place settings, there are initially only two plates on the table: the bread plate and a charger. The latter, also called a service plate, is an "underplate" for the plates used to serve each course. It never actually has any food on it; the plates used to actually serve food are placed on top of it. In formal meals, each course--soup, entrée or salad--is brought out individually. When each course is finished, the dirty plate is removed, then replaced with the plate featuring the next course. The salad course is usually served immediately before or after the main course, depending on the type of meal and the location.
Informal Place Settings
In an informal meal, all the plates to be used during the meal (excepting the dessert plate) are placed on the table before the meal. The salad plate is placed directly to the left of the forks. If the salad will be eaten with the meal, the salad plate may be omitted and the salad served on the same plate as the main course. If the entrée contains liquid, like juices or gravy, a separate salad plate can be useful to keep the meal neater and the courses separated.
The Salad Course
In the United States, the salad course is usually served between the appetizer and the main course. In other countries, European ones in particular, the salad course often follows the main course. Another element of the salad course in formal place settings is a specifically designated salad fork and knife. These are usually smaller than the utensils used to consume the main course.
Completing the Salad Course
In a formal setting, where a new plate is brought to the table for each course, it is good etiquette to signal when you have completed the current course. There are two ways to do so. The European method is to cross the salad fork and knife at the bottom edge of the plate. The American way is to place the knife and the fork, with the tines up, parallel to one another, and position them like the hands on a clock representing 10:20.
- White table setting image by Sophia Winters from Fotolia.com