A blatant sign that you are not in an ordinary place any more: a table which, in addition to being often overly long, is covered with much more cutlery than in Average Joe's home. More precisely, each plate has at least two glasses, two spoons, three forks and knives around it, all looking different and for a different purpose (soup or ice-cream spoon, fruit or oyster fork, dinner or steak knife, etc). In fiction, due to the Rule of Funny, it's common to increase the cutlery's number to the absurd, in the range of more than ten of each.note
Said place settings are either found in three-star restaurants, in a billionaire's house, or in a royal palace. It's usually a quick way to establish that the owner of the house is wealthy and maybe a bit of snob (and it's visually easier to spot than the precious metal the cutlery is made of.)
The other common use is for comedic effect when the main character is absolutely not used to such a place setting, due to being a neophyte in regards to fancy dinner tables. Usually, it's because he or she has suddenly made a fortune. Other reasons are because the hero pretends to be rich or impersonates a wealthy person, or he was invited to dine with the rich for whatever reason. In these situations, their awkwardness will make their Nouveau Riche status obvious to other guests. In the case of an impersonation, it can be a way to Spot the Imposter for said guests.
The most common mistake for the hero is to grab any piece of cutlery, but the latter is never placed in an illogical order: there is an unspoken rule of using cutlery which is mostly just from the outside in. This rule of thumb may be told to the person.
Many real-world fine dining venues avoid the confusion associated with this trope by simply bringing out the appropriate cutlery with each course.
- Kilala Princess. Kilala once entered a "Cinderella girl contest" and fails it, notably during table manners test: she not only uses her soup spoon the wrong way but picks any cutlery in sight.
- Royal 17. At the very beginning, Lumina is reprimanded by her governess because she picked the wrong fork. In her case, it's rather because of being rebellious: Lumina is born with a silver spoon in her mouth.
- One Dilbert book, which was a parody of manners guides, explained that your finer restaurants will provide an extra fork for defending your plate against grabby tablemates.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic The Wrong Fork, Rarity attends a high-class charity dinner. She's surprised to find that Princess Celestia, of all ponies, has trouble recognising which fork to use for which course, and is in fact watching her for cues. It's a consequence of living through over a thousand years of changing cultural rules.
- In Something Wicked This Way Comes Narcissa decides to adopt Hermione while Sirius chooses Luna. Narcissa takes on teaching them the social manners necessary for their new status, starting with a mock banquet.
"Can I read a book and then take a test?" asked Hermione, having realized there were twelve different pieces of silverware, along with two crystal goblets, two bowls (one empty, one filled with water), three napkins, and what she recognized as charger plates from her time in France.
- Riddle and the Ancient Contract:
Pansy: Our lord summoned us. We were told to find you and answer your questions. Need help knowing which fork to use?
Harika: Naw. Figured that out the other day then I told him I really didn't care what stuffy Purebloods thought of me using the dessert fork on my salad and banished all but one of each utensil. I mean how many forks and spoons would you have at each meal if you were the ones washing them afterward. It's pretentious and a bit ridiculous to have three of each.
- In Ninja Wizard Book 4 Harry, who inherited the Lestranges' house due to family connections, has the elves serve him and Tom spaghetti and meatballs one evening.
Tom: Anytime I ate here before it was always a multi-course dinner, every bit of it complicated, expensive and served in small, decorative portions on large, expensive plates, each with its own complementary wine and requiring its own separate fork or spoon.
- In Soulbound Draco and Snape take Harry to an expensive restaurant.
When the first course arrived, Draco showed him which utensils he was supposed to use. That was less embarrassing because Harry couldn't bother to be upset about not understanding the proper usage of the fifty utensils on the table.
- In Impossible the House of Black has a complete silver service, including oyster forks, cheese knives, etc. for sixty.
- Time to Live:
Harry arrived at the restaurant fifteen minutes early dressed in his finest clothes. It was a very high-class place with a daunting array of tableware. Harry snickered to himself thinking he would have to watch Hermione to see which fork to use.
- In the Fire Emblem Fates fanfic Nohrian Lullaby, a young Camilla is given a lesson on etiquette with a practice arrangement of spoons, knives, and forks, and is scolded by her mother for eating her soup improperly. One of Camilla's younger sisters (the daughter of a rival concubine) agrees with her that the rules for dining are too confusing to follow.
The house-elves were bringing in the next course, which based on the china bowls was going to be a soup dish. It was then that Harry looked down and saw that he had more silverware than he knew what to do with. There were three forks, three spoons and two knives. It was ridiculous, how was he supposed to know what to use?
- In Shadows and Light Harry and several friends have dinner at the home of a well-off succubus. Harry wonders why anybody would need four forks, three spoons, two knives and four glasses.
- The Weight Of The Ring On His Finger:
Dumbledore, in sweeping robes of silver and purple, led them to a large ballroom. Harry glanced around as they entered a step behind the older man. There was a lot of gold, he noticed, in both the decorations and the place settings. The tables were beautifully laid, though Harry was mildly worried about the sheer amount of cutlery.
Why would one person need five forks? It just seemed like an excessive amount of washing up, and just for a moment, he thanked his lucky stars that while Petunia had enjoyed dinner parties, she'd never decided to try and emulate this.
- In The Princess Diaries, all meals have a huge amount of cutlery. Queen Clarisse once discretely reminds Mia she's supposed to eat fruit with a fork and a knife instead of using her hands.
- The dinner scene in The Rocky Horror Picture Show gives everyone between four and seven of each utensil for a meal with only one dish.
- In Pretty Woman, Vivian is prepared for a formal dinner by Barney who explains the difference between the salad fork (the only one she's able to recognize) and meat fork, by counting prongs.note
- In The Blues Brothers, Jake and Elwood go out to eat at a fancy restaurant and make a show of eating with the worst possible table manners to get someone to join their Mission from God. At one point Elwood holds out his glass for more wine; the waiter tells him 'Wrong glass, sir,' but Elwood gestures for him to pour it in anyway.
- The glass at least is a pragmatic concern, since the water glass Elwood is holding will hold a larger-than-normal serving of wine for an already-unruly customer, who, judging by his smell, may not be able to pay for the expensive food he's already consumed.
- In Titanic (1997), Jack is rather confused by the array of silverware when he has dinner in first class. He whispers to Molly Brown "Are all of these for me?" and she replies "Just start on the outside and work your way in."
- In the third installment of The Mighty Ducks the team is dining at an upscale restaurant and Cowboy Dwayne is confused by all the forks, especially the "itty-bitty one."
- In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Eggsy is invited to join Swedish royalty for a dinner where each place setting has at least 11 utensils. His girlfriend, the Swedish princess, tries to give him a crash course to help him Meet the In-Laws, but his Tuxedo and Martini spy training included a section on dinner etiquette — including those elements that only apply in the presence of a monarch. Unknowingly in Eggsy's eyes, he remembered the time Harry taught him on that.
- In the film adaptation of Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. finds himself feeling out of his depth at a fancy dinner for prospective summer associates, especially when confronted with the array of cutlery at his place.
- Parodied in Going Postal. Moist has scammed himself and a date into a fancy restaurant using the name of the Big Bad, Reacher Gilt, only to find him entering the restaurant while they're eating. His date, Adora Belle Dearheart (who lost everything to Gilt's company) tries to leave the table and stab Gilt with a fork, but Moist tries to calm her down...by saying that the fork is for the fish. "Then what fork is appropriate for stabbing murdering bastards with?" "They bring it to the table when you order one!"
- Parodied in the Etiquette section of Nanny Ogg's Cookbook, which says the usual advice is to start from the outside, but some butlers will move them around for a laugh. Nanny's own opinion is that if you just act confident, everyone else will think you're right, even if you're eating the soup with a teaspoon. She also mentions very specific items of cutlery you might find at posher banquets, including asparagus tongs and flippers, pea shooters, parsnip spears, fish rammers, and clockwork spaghetti forks. "Apparently there's something called a snail fork, but I don't see how they could hold one."
- In a picture book for the series Doug, Skeeter and Bebe decide to switch places for a while. Skeeter orders a sandwich for lunch but quickly finds himself flummoxed by all the forks (the number is parody level) and wonders if it's possible to starve with food on your plate.
- Elemental Masters: In The Gates of Sleep, Madame Arachne deliberately invokes this after she has Marina dragged off and turned over to her. The "humiliate Marina" objective fails because one of the servants manages to subtly point out which utensil should be used to eat each course.
- Nomads of Gor: Tarl and his friend Kamchak, both Warriors, are the special guests at a banquet held in a grand hall by the leading Merchant of the city-state Turia. Tarl is confounded by all the special eating implements and multiple courses served, while Kamchack digs in heartily. Ultimately Tarl is offered a simple large steak to eat instead of the finery being offered, which he accepts.
- In the second installment of the Gossip Girl series, Chuck notices Dan's cutlery confusion at Cyrus and Eleanor's wedding and snidely tells him to work his way from the outside in.
- In the children's novel Hawkins (reprinted as The Contest Kid and the Big Prize) a typical suburban American tween enters a mail-in sweepstakes and wins the services of a gentleman's gentleman for one month. He doesn't want it, but his parents force him to accept as a Radish Cure so he'll stop entering contests. The first night he has to dress in his Sunday best for a dinner for one prepared by Hawkins and is thoroughly confused by all the cutlery. At the end of the meal, not knowing what else to do with his napkin he balls it up and stuffs it into his glass. Later he learns that there is a napkin ring designed specifically for putting used napkins in.
- Old Kingdom: When Sabriel enters the dining room at Abhorsen's House, she notes that the table is full of place settings and cutlery she'd only previously seen in her Etiquette textbook at boarding school, including a real golden straw for sucking out the insides of a pomegranate.
- In the album Princess, a glittering guide for all ladies, in the chapter "Your first banquet" it's explained that a table setting looks daunting, but you simply have to begin from the outside.
- In the version of the Gazpacho Soup scene in the Red Dwarf novelisation, Rimmer says he was told the rule about starting from the outside before dining at the captain's table and started so far from the outside he accidentally stole his neighbour's fork.
- One episode of Cheers had Woody invited to Kelly's father's house. He brings Sam with him and the following exchange occurs:
Woody: Hey, Sam. I was in the dining room earlier and I was wondering something. Why do the table settings have two forks?
Sam: Well, I guess that's in case you drop your fork, then you have a spare.
Woody: Yeah, but why is one fork smaller than the other?
Sam: Well, I guess in case you drop that one, it doesn't make as much noise.
- In Downton Abbey, Carson instructs Alfred how to distinguish between six types of spoons: tea, egg, melon, grapefruit, jam, and bouillon.
- Once parodied in the French show of the '90s Palace! The director of a luxury hotel shows poor people "how they can make their table look like a 'fancy table.'" It includes having several forks, knives, and glasses around the plate even if, in that very case, all cutlery looks identical and is for the same purpose anyway.
- Monarch of the Glen: Lexie gives a bewildered guest the advice "start from the outside and work in".
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: This trope is brought up by Chief O'Brien as one of the reasons he dislikes officer's parties so much.
- Discussed in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Vivienne is from a Decadent Court and Varric is trying to do some research on table etiquette in Orlais. When asked whether choosing the wrong fork is worse than death or merely social suicide, Vivienne admits she doesn't know, because if someone does choose the wrong fork they will probably be stabbed to death with the right one.
- In Mass Effect: Andromeda, a lieutenant in the Nexus militia can be overheard worrying that giving weapons training to the recently-contacted angara could end up screwing things up for the diplomats. This prompts the militia's commander to remark that she's showing them guns, not how to use a salad fork.
- Erfworld: Briefly brought up in a conversation between Jillian and Prince Ansom where Jillian elaborates to Ansom how she was the princess of a hidden nation big on class and culture, and that her father wanted a son like himself instead of her...
Jillian: Only instead of a perfect philosopher-prince like he wanted? ... He got a sword-swinging madwoman, who knows exactly which fork to use to pluck out an eyeball... but not for the salad.
Ansom: Far left.
Ansom: The smaller fork, with the one stronger tine. That's for the salad.
Jillian: Oh, it is the eyeball one.
- Tiny eyes once lampshaded◊ that the trope is typically occidental, as all you need in China is a pair of chopsticks.
- Daughter of the Lilies: There are at least eight golden utensils, plus superfluous dishes, per place setting at a particularly stultifying Fancy Dinner where some social elites have a casual chat about demon-summoning.
- Sofia the First. Sofia's first dinner at the palace embarrasses her so much that the little girl takes all the forks at once in her hands. Princess Amber notices it — and make fun of her new stepsister's table manners at school the very next day.
- Barbie movies:
- Barbie in The Princess and the Pauper. Erika, who's impersonating princess Anneliese, is being taught in a song that "To be a princess is to know which spoon to use."
- Barbie as the Princess and the Popstar. Keira, princess Tori's look-alike, pretends to be her and is embarrassed when she does not know which spoon to choose to eat ice-cream. Fortunately, Tori's pet dog, of all people, shows Keira the proper one with her paw.note
- The Simpsons. In the episode The Mansion Family, the Simpsons look after Mr. Burns' mansion during his and Mr. Smithers' absence. While having sloppy joes for dinner one night, they use all the cutlery available, though Marge notes that it's probably too elaborate for such a simple meal. Marge knows what all but one of the forks are for, with the one she doesn't know being very long—Homer claims that that particular fork makes a good butt-scratcher.
Headmistress: Young lady, this is not an olive fork. Here's a simple trick to help you remember. (jabs fork into Helen's hand)
- A flashback in "The Way We Weren't" shows Marge's time in an all-girls' etiquette camp, where she and her friends are learning to eat with 33 forks.
- In Regular Show, the waiter of an exclusive fancy restaurant took advantage of this to unmask Muscleman — who was trying to impress his girlfriend's parents — as a filthy peasant. Muscleman simply couldn't figure out what spoon is used to eat crème brûlée without the help of Mordecai and Rigby.
- In Mia and Me, female students have, during a manners class, to remember exactly the photo of a table arrangement, then recreate it without forgetting a single fork.
- Kaeloo: In one episode where Kaeloo invites her friends over for a tea party, she sets out a huge number of forks for different kinds of food.
- Mickey Mouse (2013): In the episode "The Fancy Gentleman", Mickey gets Lessons in Sophistication and must notably recognize which fork to use. Each time he points the wrong one, his teacher slaps his hand with a riding crop.
- Truth in Television: Of course you will find such place settings in high-class restaurants or receptions. When in doubt, it's advised to let other guests take their own cutlery first, and then imitate them.note As a general rule of thumb, start at the edge and work inwards.
- It is said that when Yuri Gagarin, during a formal dinner with HM The Queen, wasn't eating, she asked what was the matter. He answered that, as a simple peasant's son, he had no idea which of the enormous cutlery array to use for what. Her Majesty reassured him that she, being raised in a palace, tended to have the same problem herself.
- J.D. Vance told a similar story in his autobiographical memoir Hillbilly Elegy. While at Yale Law School, he was attending a formal dinner with potential employers, and having been raised in a working-class Appalachian culture, had no idea about which utensils to use when confronted with this. He managed to excuse himself, go to the bathroom, and call his girlfriend (and future wife) Usha, who explained the outside-in rule to him.
- Allegedly, Cardinal de Richelieu spotted an impostor at his table because he ate olives with the wrong fork.
- The number of cutlery exploded during the Victorian era, allowing to distinguish a upper class table from an ordinary one. There were even cutlery for food eaten with fingers (pieces of cheese, grapefruit, nuts, olives), dedicated to every kind of meal (luncheon knives, dinner knives, butter knives, dessert spoons, breakfast coffee spoons, five o"clock spoons) and to one type of food (berry spoons, asparagus tongs, grape scissors, bon-bon scoops). It could plunge the non initiated in a "fork anxiety", fear of committing a silverware faux-pas.