Perfect Place Settings

Decorous place settings and etiquette can transform everyday meals into something extraordinary.
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You don't have to frequent five-star restaurants to enjoy an upscale dining experience.

With the right tools and skills, you can create a wonderful experience at will.

After walking on the style side and purchasing a beautiful tablecloth, it's time to dress it up with a designer place setting -- for a party of eight or just for you.

But fine china and linen should not be reserved for guests. To enjoy the good life, take pleasure in using them daily. What's more, these items need not be left at home.

Elegance is the one thing you


take with you.

Workplace Good Taste

Lunch at the office can become a brilliant experience rather than a harried one, even while working at your desk.

So before noshing on sesame shrimp or even a takeout deli sandwich, whisk out a formal place setting and enjoy your impeccable good taste and refinement, as well as your meal.

For safety and longevity, store your stylish setting right in your desk. Simply clean out a drawer for a four-piece place set like

Mariposa's Baubles. Wrap some sparkling Vera Wang

flatware and glassware in a linen napkin and matching placemat.

And if you don't have a private office, steal away to an empty conference room to avoid the inevitable green eye of brown-baggers.

Mind Your Manners

No matter where you're dining -- or whether you're a guest or host -- employing proper etiquette in public settings is crucial.

You don't have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth to know where to place your fork and how to use it. For the right price, these skills can be acquired.

Enter experts like

Gloria Starr, president of North Carolina-based Global Success Strategies, established in 1983. From her silky voice to her tailored suits, Starr exudes a captivating charisma, as well as teaches it through programs like Executive Finishing School, Ambassadorship Skills and the Modern Day Charm and Finishing School for Men and Women.

Etiquette gurus like Starr travel the world educating about good manners, making it a better place for everyone, one boor at a time. It's an investment -- a coaching session she recently held in Dubai cost $850 for a four-hour sit-down with the dining diva.

Starr has even coached celebrities, appeared on television and

written extensively on etiquette. If you're still tucking a napkin into your collar or can't stop slurping your soup, check her site for a program near you.

Another dining diva is Peggy Newfield, a quintessential Southern belle who is the president of corporate etiquette training company

Personal Best, also runs the

American School of Protocol, which teaches manners to children.

Like Starr, she has been in the etiquette business for about 20 years. Newfield recommends checking out her

DVDs Dining Skills for the 21st Century ($40) and Dining & Social Skills for Business ($50). These instructional videos cost Newfield $50,000 altogether to produce, but the wealth of information they contain is priceless.

A Place for Everything

Whether you opt for professional instruction or not, it's always helpful to review the basics.

Everything -- cutlery, glassware and other dining tools (i.e., individual salt and pepper holders) -- surrounds the plate.

Starr has a simple rule to remember where to place the bread plate and the glasses. Put your thumb and forefinger together: that movement will form the letter d on the right hand and the letter b on the left. D is for drinks, which always go to the right of the plate. B is for bread; the bread plate is always on your left side.

Why are there so many forks? Which one do you use first, and how should they be arranged?

Newfield and Starr share a simple rule: start from the outside and work your way in toward the plate.

The number of utensils is indicative of the number of courses and in which order they will be served.

Left of your plate, from the outside in, you may see a fish fork, a dinner fork and a salad fork. At a glance you know what you are eating and in what order. On the right side from the outside in, you may see a cocktail fork, soup spoon, fish knife and dinner knife.

As you can see, forks are not always restricted to the left side of the plate. It's OK to let a cocktail fork hang out with the soup spoon on the right side.

Also on the right-hand side of the plate, you'll always find the soup spoon and knife or knives. The exception is the butter knife, which is off to the side, accompanying the bread plate.

Sharp edges of the knives should always face the diner plate, rather than your neighbor. This is perceived as less aggressive, Starr explains.

Still can't picture it? For a visual, offers this illustrated

place-setting guide. And while a formal setting may require wine glasses and champagne flutes, feel free to fill those with fresh juices if you don't drink, says Starr.

Style Wise

But there's more -- all these rules are dependent on location. As Starr and Newfield explain, the two most popular forms of etiquette are Continental (European) and American.

European dining etiquette requires keeping the fork in the left hand after cutting with the right hand. The food enters the mouth with the tines pointing downward.

American etiquette dictates that the fork is switched from the left to right hand when alternately cutting and eating. It is important to cut one piece of food at a time; don't dice up your entire plate at once. The food is received with the tines of the fork pointing toward the roof of your mouth, in a scooplike position.

Another difference is found in the order of the courses: European custom is to serve salad after the main dish, while American is to serve it before the main course. This also affects the ordering of the forks.

So why not put all your hard work to use and break out the luxe plates and utensils?

If you just can't bring yourself to using grandmother's fine china, then it's time to order some designer wares you will love and use on a regular basis.

Starr admits her Versace dinnerware collection costs more than her car. "But I adore them," she says. If you want to buy designers for less, check out, an online luxury-dinnerware discounter.

Whether you are hosting a party or flying solo, the proper table setting -- and etiquette -- will transform an ordinary meal into something spectacular. At home or in the office, eating out of a Styrofoam container is a quality-of-life sacrifice one should seldom make.

Set an elegant table, and take comfort in the finer side of life.

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