That only a handful of people showed up this week at the Woodland Hills Library for "Holiday Tablesetting With Fifi," a free workshop in dining room etiquette, may say something about the importance of formality in our society.
Nevertheless, those who attended heard from instructor Marian Fifi Locke that etiquette goes beyond good posture and manners and knowing which knife is for the butter--it can also be about creativity.
"It really is a lost art form. There are a lot of inexpensive ways to incorporate different themes and create beautiful settings," said Locke, a perfume company sales coordinator who enters her settings in county fair competitions and teaches etiquette in her spare time.
"It's more than knowing the difference between an entree fork and a seafood fork."
Before delving into the world of dinner-table design, though, one must have a grasp of the basics. Locke's workshops reveal the mysteries behind the various china, stemware and silverware encountered at a formal occasion.
"We very seldom sit down to formal settings. And when we do, we are often at a loss," Locke said.
Although her pointers might not be enough to guide one through a 10-course state dinner for a visiting dignitary, they will almost certainly get one through Christmas dinner at grandmother's house without any major embarrassments.
Another benefit of knowing how to create lovely settings, Locke said, is that at formal occasions even those whose culinary skills are wanting still have something to contribute.
"Like me," she said. "I don't cook very well, so at least I can make a beautiful setting."