As we start the New Year, I thought it would be a good idea to let you in on a little secret: I have a "thing" for social graces--i.e. manners and etiquette. For DMRFF regulars, this probably doesn't come as much of a surprise, but I wanted to put it out there, nonetheless, for my long-time and new readers, alike. Now that my "secret's" out, I hope you can appreciate my passion for making your dining and entertaining experiences more pleasurable.
More than lists of do's and don'ts, at the heart, etiquette is a thoughtful consideration of others. In fact, my most simple translation boils down to "doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you." With that said, observing the rules of social engagement, including dining, is something to be appreciated, because, when done in earnest, it (typically) leads to a more civil and enjoyable experience for all.
Sometimes a picture is worth a 1000 words. And I think the above diagrams of both formal and informal place settings are great tutorials. Log them as reference guides and refer to them as often as necessary to keep you sharp. They're also great learning tools for teaching children the basics of table place settings.
More than anything, though, just relax and go with the flow. If someone grabs your bread plate by mistake, follow suit and take the one next to you. The rotation will make its way around the table and everyone will receive a bread plate, without any embarrassment or hurt feelings coming into play. It's the gift of good manners. And the gift that keeps on giving.