Maybe it's time you moved on from that set of forks and knives you used at university. Maybe upgrade to something a little more... grown-up.  Whether you like sleek modern designs or prefer a classic table, there are plenty of designs to choose from.  Several other things to consider are whether you'll buy stainless steel or silver, and whether you'd like new cutlery, or if you'd like an antique set (romantic, but risky -- antique silver demands quite a bit of upkeep to prevent tarnishing).  Depending on your situation, you may also consider owning two sets of cutlery, one for everyday use, and another for special occasions.

Field Guide to Cutlery

Can you tell your forks from your knives?  What about the difference between fish forks and salad forks? You've probably seen most of these pieces before, but in case you need a reminder, here are the different pieces. They are presented in roughly the order you would expect to see them on the table. The plate goes between the forks and the knives/spoons.

The Basic Place Setting

Most cutlery sets include four to twelve settings. Very basic sets may only include one knife, one fork and one spoon per setting. Some manufacturers also sell cutlery by the place setting instead of or in addition to pre-assembled sets.

Salad Fork 

Shorter fork, often notched between center tines -- sometimes used for fish.

Dinner Forks 

Larger and longer tines than salad fork.

Dessert /Tea Spoons 

The smaller of the two spoons in an average cutlery set. This is usually placed above the plates in formal place settings.

Table Knives 

Larger than a butter knife, not as sharp as a steak knife.

Soup Spoons 

The larger of the two spoons; sometimes nearly circular.

Formal Cutlery

Most of these are now only used on special occasions, if at all. It's still good to know in case you're invited to dine with Her Majesty. These pieces are presented roughly in the order in which they would appear on a table from left to right. Of course, you can be creative in changing around the functions of these somewhat antiquated implements to use them with a modern menu.

Cocktail Forks 

Used for seafood appetizers.

Fish Forks 

Used when the main course is fish.

Steak Knives 

Used when the main course is steak.

Fish Knives 

Used when main course is fish.

Butter Knives 

Used for butter, chutneys, and other spreads.

Beverage Spoons 

Long, thin spoon used for stirring tall drinks.

Demitasse Spoons 

Used for Espresso coffee.

Rare Species

Nowadays restricted to a limited habitat of antiques shops and homes of collectors.

Tea Tongs 

Used to squeeze tea from a teabag in polite company.

Finger Bowls 

Used to clean your fingertips.

Table Crumbers 

Clean up between courses - of course, a guest would not be expected to use it!

Salt Spoons 

Tiny, round-bowled spoon for serving salt from a salt cellar.

Serving Utensils

Many cutlery sets will come with matching serving utensils, but not all do. Depending on how much entertaining you do or plan to do -- you may only need three serving pieces, or you may need many more.

Serving Spoons 

Slotted Spoons 

Serving Forks 

Sugar Spoons 

Pie Servers 

Salad Tongs 

Serving Tongs 

Gravy Ladles 

Punch Ladles 

Flat Servers 

Cutlery Factors

  • Stainless
    • Stainless steel is designated with a pair of numbers, frequently 18/10 or 18/8.
    • The first number is the amount of chromium, the second is the amount of nickel.
    • Chromium increases the rust resistance, while nickel increases the luster of the cutlery.
  • Silver
    • Silver is the old-fashioned, but elegant choice for occasion cutlery.
    • As silver is a relatively non-reactive metal, it will not react with the food and change its flavour.
    • Silver needs a little more care than stainless, since it can tarnish over time if not properly cared for.
  • Dishwasher Safe
    • Most stainless steel and silver cutlery made today is dishwasher safe.
    • Look out for finishes or accents, such as gold plate, that can be damaged in the dishwasher.
    • Never wash stainless steel and silver together. The metals will interact and can cause spotting on the silver.
  • Durable
    • Solid construction.
    • Choose pieces that will be stylish over the years, not just hip for right now.
  • Warranty
    • Just in case a knife breaks, a fork bends, or the stainless gets tarnished.
  • Replacements
    • If you cannot purchase replacements from a manufacturer, find out if there are any speciality shops that carry (or can find) your pattern, such as Chinasearch.
  • Returnable
    • If you're not 100% sure that a set is right for you, make sure you can return it to the store.

How Many Pieces Do I Need?

  • 20-24 piece sets are ideal for homes of one or two. Otherwise you won't always have enough for both breakfast and dinner without running the dishwasher.
  • 42-53 piece sets will serve eight. A good choice for everyday use for families of up to four.
  • 65-89 piece sets will accommodate up to twelve diners and are a good choice for larger families for daily use.
  • 90+ piece sets generally include settings for twelve plus other odds and ends.
    • The largest sets might include a dozen extra teaspoons and/or salad forks so that you don't have to wash the silver between dinner and dessert when you have a large party.
    • Large sets may also include a dozen steak knives.
    • They might also include a few serving pieces beyond the basics, like a flat server or a gravy ladle.
  • When deciding how big a set you should get, keep in mind how many guests you might entertain at one time. Don't forget to factor in how often you wash (or want to wash) your dishes and the size of your kitchen drawers and your dishwasher.

Major Manufacturers

  • Viners : Affordable cutlery with a variety of designs.
  • Oneida : Decent quality for a decent price.

Related Products



Utensil Organisers 

Kitchen Knives 

Kitchen Utensils 

International Resources

For this resource in your home country, please see:
NL: Bestek Shopgids