It begins with a plate. One plate per person, set directly in front of her chair, about an inch away from the edge of the table.
Next, the entree fork and knife join the party. Fork on the left, knife on the right, with the blade opening toward the plate. The Gent was once a protocol officer in the Air Force, and he told me a story he learned at protocol school about knife blades. According to service mythology, there once lived a King who loved to feast. He loved to drink and tell stories almost as much as he loved feasting, and as a drunken storyteller is wont to do in the middle of a feast, the king flung his hand wildly as he regaled his guests with a tale of recent adventure. His hand brushed the the blade of his knife, which was pointing away from his plate, and the king sliced his hand open.
I have no idea if that story is true, but it is a good way to remember which way to set knives on a dinner table.
After the entree fork and knife, in a simple dinner setting, comes the salad fork and the spoon. Salad fork flanking the entree knife on the left, and spoon on right of the knife. If you are planning multiple courses, the servingware for the earliest courses goes at the outermost point– forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right– so guests move their way inward with each progressive course. Though nowadays most establishments with several courses will bring you the necessary cutlery just before each dish lands in front of you, and clear it away when you have finished with it, to prevent clutter and confusion on the table (and, I am sure, to prevent anyone from having a moment of sheer terror a la Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, as she beheld the armory set before her).
Now we’re picking up speed–
Moving on to glassware, et cetera–
The water glass sits above the knives on the right hand side. The bread plate to the left, either beside the forks or above them. Sometimes the plate to the left of the forks is a salad plate. In which case the bread plate will be above the forks.
If, at a dinner party, you are confused about which glass or bread plate is yours, curl your middle fingers to your thumbs. Your right hand makes a ‘d’- there is your drink. Your left hand makes a ‘b,’ there is your bread plate.
Ok. Now we’re cooking with gas! Lets pour some (imaginary, non-flammable) wine on this fire, ok?
The wine glass goes to the right of the water glass.
And if you are pouring a wine with the first course, you fancy minx, you can put another wine glass to the right of that glass, too.
Then, just to muck up the whole idea of “What you use first is closest at hand, then you move inward,” if a coffee cup is pre-set, it goes to the right of the rest of the glassware.
Throw a napkin on there, Madame, and you are done!