DEAR MISS MANNERS: Dining out at two different places, I was taken aback to find the lack of a spoon in the table setting. Upon looking across the room, I noticed all the table setups were minus the spoon. Is this a new wave? In my own humble home, I still set a knife, fork and spoon, and I have taught my children the same. I have another restaurant pet peeve, and you may correct me on this. I will not dine at a place if I know they use a three-tined fork. I think that is so cheap.
Just a touch of humor: One of these places was so gross it was laughable. First, the missing spoon. The wine came in a non-wine glass. The rolls were stale, there was no bread plate, and the salad came after the entree was served. Now comes the big finish from the waitress, who finally smiled. Her mouth was filled with rotten teeth, minus the holes from lack of same.
By the way, I did write letters of comment to these places and received no reply.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is trying to imagine a restaurant guide that would provide the information you need to find a place that would satisfy you. She has not yet come across one that critiques the state of the waitresses' teeth. What would the little symbols be that tell you how many are missing?
At any rate, you should not be the one to issue guidelines. You can choose your restaurants on the basis of whatever eccentricities you have, and presumably no one likes stale bread (well, maybe pigeons, but what do they know?), but Miss Manners begs you not to attempt a career as a critic of table etiquette. It is not a subject you know.
Far from violating the rules of table service, the restaurants you scorn are using (or stumbling into) better service than restaurants generally attempt. What you seem to think correct is a result of the compromises that restaurants usually make, faced as they are with customers who want something cooked to order but served immediately.
For truly proper service, the table is set with only the utensils that will be used, so a spoon appears at dinner only if there is to be soup or it is part of the dessert service. Restaurants put out bread and butter and serve the salad as a first course not because it is correct, but to keep their customers from growling while the meal is prepared. At a formal dinner, where the cooks know in advance what is to be served, there are no bread and butter plates, and the salad is served after the main course.
As the four-tined fork did not appear until mid-18th century, any three-tined ones made before that time would be anything but cheap. Whether people had fewer teeth in those days, as well, Miss Manners cannot recall.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: If a person is a rabbi, priest, nun or of another religious profession, am I supposed to call the person "Rabbi," "Father," "Sister," etc., even if I am not of the same faith?
GENTLE READER: Yes. One might say that it is less a question of what authority you believe them to have than what authority you believe yourself to have. Miss Manners assures you that you would be neither conferring nor endorsing such titles by using them as a matter of courtesy.