In a place setting for formal dining, the number of flatware pieces corresponds to the number of courses served. You start with the outermost piece of flatware and work your way in with each course. The largest forks are the dinner forks; smaller forks can be used interchangeably in some silverware sets for salad and dessert, but differences in placement on the table distinguish them.
Placement on the table readily distinguishes the salad fork and dessert fork. For salads served after the entree, the salad fork is located to the right of the dinner fork. If the salad is served first, the fork will be to the outer left side of the plate, next to the fish fork. The dessert fork lies above the plate with the tines pointing to the right. Sometimes a dessert spoon is set above the dessert fork with the bowl of the spoon pointing to the left. However, in other formal settings, the dessert fork comes to the table with the dessert.
The sizes of the two forks can vary slightly, but in many cases the salad and dessert fork are the same size. Both are smaller than dinner forks but larger than the oyster fork, the smallest fork in a formal place setting. With some flatware, the salad fork has longer tines but a shorter handle than the dessert fork, which has shorter tines but a longer handle, making them the same length. In many everyday silverware sets, one fork can be used interchangeably for both the salad and dessert.
Salad and dessert forks typically have a fourth tine, while a dinner fork usually has three but sometimes four. The thicker left tine on some salad forks makes cutting greens easier; it's on the left because the majority of people are right-handed. The thicker tine on the salad fork distinguishes it from the dessert fork in some flatware patterns. However, often in sets containing both a salad and a dessert fork, the salad forks have four tines and the dessert forks have three.
Design Is Uniform
The design of the salad and dessert forks is the same because in a formal place setting all the flatware has the same design. The differences between all the forks of a place setting have to do with overall length and different sizes of the tines and handle. What the fork is to be used for determines its placement.