Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bread and Butter

Bread and butter. That mysterious little plate and tiny knife to the left of your place setting is a bread plate and butter knife. Oh! You knew that, of course. But to use them correctly there is a good long nuisance of a ballet. And there is the never-ending confusion regarding how to accept bread from a server, how to serve it at home, and then as if all that weren't enough strategery (did you like that?), you need to be clear on how to correctly consume it once it finally makes its way to your plate. Lets clear up this mystifying matter of the dining table.

Firstly, some things you may not know about the unsuspecting bit players in your dinner:

1. When setting a table, the bread plate should be placed to the upper left of the charger or dinner plate.

2. The butter knife should be placed horizontally across the top of the plate, knife end closest the dinner plate, blade pointing downwards towards the guest.

3. Occasionally there will be no bread plate. This was formerly correct in the United States and in some parts of the world still is: If you are offered bread and have no plate to your left, the etiqutte of formal dinner was, according to Amy Vanderbilt, to "place a hard dinner roll on or in the napkin."

Moving on, It might be best we rethink this napkin plan straight away, because it is messy and regardless of what she says, never eat directly from the tablecloth.

If you are having a dinner at home, these are some options and your choice is dependent on your service's infrastructure and your willingness to deal with one more set of plates:

1. Set the table with bread plate and butter knife. It does not really matter any longer that your center and butter plates match: find something neutral or complimentary to the table. This is my prefernece.

2. Do not use butter plates and allow the guests to use their center plates for the bread. Now, here is the daring part: The guests either have to use their dinner knife for the butter or you will need to find some other (aka outside the guidelines of mannerliness as documented at a planetary level thus far) method of setting the table to give them a butter knife. You could line it up in use order, perhaps.

3. Do not serve bread. (Heavens! A moment of insanity just gripped me.) Serve yorkshire pudding and call it genius.

4. Or, you sneaky little peach, wait until the main course is on the table to place
the baskets on the table or have them brought around. Everyone will place it on their dinner plates and move on with their lives.

If you are in a restaurant, the following applies:

1. If a server approaches with a basket of multiple types of rolls, you will point to one (and only one). The server will place the bread on your bread plate with tongs.

2. If the bread is served from a community basket on the table, select only one and move it to your bread plate.

Butter, whether you are serving it at home or eating it in a restaurant requires
the following attention:

1. Generally, one suculpted or sliced piece of good butter is placed on a small service plate at the center of the table (Four people at dinner equals four 1 tablespoon size pats of butter on the service plate).

2. Remove one pat of butter and place it on your bread plate. Do not butter your bread pieces from the community plate.

3. If the butter is served in a small bowl or egg cup, use your butter knife to remove only as much as you will need to eat your roll and place it on your bread plate. Butter your bread from your portion. Once again, do not butter your bread from the service plate, only from your own bread plate.

Now you have solved the service problem but the issue is only half addressed. Did you think eating bread properly was easy? Let me set you straight: Apparently it is not. The task of getting bread on to butter and into your jaw is perhaps the most challenging of all dining skills to master but once understood makes the process of consuming bread much easier, faster, and neater.

To correctly consume a large slice of bread, a roll, or any other baked good normally served on a bread plate, you will break the bread with your hands, one small bite-sized piece at a time, butter and/or salt it as you wish, put the butter knife down and consume it, one piece at a time.

Please do not break it up into twelve tiny pieces. Please do not butter three pieces in advance. And whatever you do, do not butter an entire piece of bread or roll and eat it whole. People will begin staring and while that is not good manners, it is clearly a free-for-all now, no?

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