Table setting and serving represent an ancient tradition that many modern educators overlook. To most children, table manners may mean nothing more than “Chew with your mouth closed,” but you can give your child a head start in the skill of fine manners by teaching him how to be a perfect miniature host. Your preschooler may not master the position of 10 possible silverware positions, but he can learn the basics of serving etiquette even at a young age.
How to Set a Place
Show your child how to set the table from the plate outward in the order a meal is eaten. For example, the salad fork and knife are placed on the inside since guests will eat the salad course first. Aside from the main courses, other utensils are matched with their respective plates. Lay the butter knife on the bread plate, the coffee spoon on the saucer and the cake fork and dessert spoon horizontally above the main plate as a reminder of something to look forward to. Place the drinking glasses above the knife, with the tea saucer sitting slightly to the right, handle pointing outward.
Have her make a table setting place mat to practice with on a daily basis. Use an old calendar picture as your base, and cut out silverware and plate shapes from construction paper. Cover the place mat with contact paper to help it last through many practice sessions.
Where to Stand
Have your child stand to the left if he is setting down side dishes or if the guest will be helping himself from a platter. As an exception, if you have already filled the plates in the kitchen, your child should serve full plates or drinks from the right.
Your munchkin can practice walking around with something non-breakable and light, like a plastic platter of raw vegetables. He should hold the dish with two hands with thumbs on top. This seems basic, but dish carrying doesn’t come by instinct! Be prepared for a spill or two while he is first learning, so give him the non-staining choices.
What to Say
Let’s be honest -- correct etiquette for what to say at a formal dinner doesn’t come naturally to a child. Instead of “Do you want some of this stuff,” teach your child a more polite alternative, like “May I offer you” or “May I help you.” Your little helper can practice enunciating and projecting her words, although your guests won’t mind some cute mispronunciations. If your child is taking a turn being served, have her practice saying, “Thank you, I do not want any” instead of “I don’t like that.”
How to Clear Plates
Train your child to watch for everyone to be finished eating before he begins to clear. After a cue from you, your child can make the rounds, asking “Have you finished?” before taking the plates. Traditionally, servers clear the side dishes from the left and the main dishes from the right, although your munchkin may not have his left and right clear just yet. Most importantly, he should take one at a time to the kitchen rather than stacking them. For a formal meal, train him to take out dishes from each course before bringing in the next ones.