In laying the table for an informal dinner, where the carving is to be done on the table, a napkin to protect the cloth is spread at the carver's place. Very-pretty fancy pieces are made for this use, but an ordinary dinner napkin will do. This is not removed until the table is cleared for the dessert. When the carving is done on the table, the soup and dessert are usually served by the lady of the house, and the salad is also dressed on the table, and then passed. So far as the service will allow, however, it is pleasanter to have everything passed that does not need cutting.
The vegetable dishes should never be placed on the table. When the joint is put on the table, warm plates in a pile are set at the left of, or before the carver, and when a portion is served, the plate is lifted by the servant and placed before the person for whom it is intended, without the use of a tray. The plates placed on the table when it is laid are used for holding the soup plates, and are not removed until the ones holding the portions of the next course are exchanged for them; if the succeeding course is to be passed, warm or cold plates, as the course requires, are in turn exchanged for them; but if the course is to be served from the table, the places are meanwhile left without covers. There should always be a plate before each person except in this instance, and when the table is cleared for dessert. Sharpening the carving-knife is a trial to the nerves of many, and this infliction can be easily avoided by having it done before dinner is announced.
Many good carvers, however, seem to delight in this preliminary operation and are unconscious of committing an act of impoliteness. The attractiveness of a dish may be wholly lost by unskilful carving, and the appetite may be destroyed by an overloaded plate. Where but one substantial dish is served, it is permissible to be helped a second time. The dish can be removed to the side-table, and the second portions helped by the servant, if the carver does not care to be interrupted in his own dinner after he has performed the office of cutting the joint.
The sense of sight should always be considered, even though it cost the trouble of replenishing a dish. No more than can be used on one plate is served at the same time at any well appointed table. One vegetable only, besides potatoes, is served with the roast; if more are used, they are served as courses separately.