Table Settings: All you ever wanted to know! …and more ;)

How-To: Table SettingsWhile those April showers work their magic (“It’s nice for the plants. It’s nice for the plants”…my brain on repeat as I walk through the chilly rain), you may still be getting into summer dinner party mode; the kind that go way into the night with long, lazy conversations and drinks outside. So until the weather is more accommodating, let’s focus on making inside dinners as special as possible. Cue: Table setting guidelines! Table setting may sound boring, but stay with me!  With just a bit of knowledge and effort, you can easily bring a great sense of occasion to any party.  I hope you’re hungry 🙂 3 courses of table setting knowledge are served:

How-To: Table SettingsLet’s start with an appetizer before the main course and talk tableware!  There are tons of options, but to help narrow down the possibilities, first decide on your personal style; minimal, glamourous, funky, etc. To keep things polished and visually coherent, pick your dining style, and use this as a measuring stick of sorts when selecting plates, glassware, and utensils.  Although not included in the definition of ‘tableware,’ serving bowls and tongs, crockery, candy dishes, etc should recieve the same consideration.  As this is a special occasion, let your imagination really run wild with the centerpiece(s) and try to incorporate elements you may otherwise overlook…a sweet, smiling, ceramic elephant perhaps? 😀

How-To: Table SettingsKeep in mind, you will need napkins, and perhaps a table runner or tablecloth.  These are perfect opportunities to incorporate color and pattern…if that fits with your chosen style of course.  I prefer this route as it means my plates and glasses remain relatively neutral and can easily be integrated into future dining arrangements.  Less really is more 🙂

Once you have your tableware selected, it’s time to dig in and start arranging!

How-To: Table SettingsBasic Informal

Consists of: dinner fork, a single plate, dinner knife, teaspoon, and a water glass.

Although very paired down, certain table setting ‘rules’ can still be seen here.  For the sake of brevity, I will only list them under this description, but these guides are applicable to all subsequent table setting descriptions as well (note: in order to have everything fit in the photo, some items were slightly moved off their marks, please consult the text below to get exact directions).  While many of these rules may seem pure, finicky nonsense, as far as I can tell, they have actually been well thought out and are not meant to annoy a host(ess), but instead, to truly enhance the dining experience and set a lively mood right from the start.  If you have any insights to add, please leave a comment as I would love to know more!

  • Make sure the blade of your dinner knife is approx. 1 inch away from and faces the plate.
  • Although shown, for the purpose of a photographic tutorial, the dinner plate should actually only arrive with the first course and not with your guests.  When placed, it should be about 1 inch away from the table’s edge.
  • The water glass should be placed approx. 1 inch above the tip of the dinner knife, so as to be within easy reach.  As you may have already guessed, the 1 inch rule can be applied to each item in relation to it’s distance from a plate or the table’s edge.
  • There are two ways in which the fork(s) may be placed:  American style with tines upward (as shown), or Continental style with tines downward, ie touching the table.  The difference originates from how the fork is held when actually eating.  American style holds the tines down while cutting food, and then upward to eat. In the Continental style, food is cut and eaten with tines down.
  • If you choose to add a salad or fish plate, this should be placed to the left of the fork(s).  A bread plate, or butter plate as it is sometimes called, would be placed above the fork(s).
  • From the center of one plate to the center of the next plate should be 24 inches or 61 centimetres.  This allows for plenty of elbow room for each guest.

The use of each utensil follows the ‘outside-in’ guideline.  This means for the first course you use the utensil(s…one from each side) farthest from your plate, the second course uses the second farthest, and so on, until you run out of utensils, and then its probably time for coffee 😉

How-To: Table SettingsAdvanced Informal

Consists of:  same as the Basic Informal but with the addition of a salad fork, soup spoon, and wine glass.

In general, the salad fork should be slightly smaller than the dinner fork, however, I prefer a minimalist household, and therefore, all my forks are the same size 😉

As far as napkins go, you may put them either in the center of the place setting, to the left of the fork farthest from the plate, or directly under the forks.  As the number of utensils increase, you may choose to move the napkin from the left to the center, as this conserves table space, and allows for more guests.  A small treat or gift adorning the napkin adds a special touch and can even be used as a conversation starter…especially helpful when not everyone knows one another.

How-To: Table SettingsFormal 

Table settings can actually get far more extensive and grandiose than the one above, however, this will certainly allow for several courses and hours of dining enjoyment.

Consists of:  same as Advanced Informal but with the addition of another wine glass (so now there is one for red and one for white), bread plate & knife (that’s a very sweet ‘bread’ in the photo ;), dessert spoon, dessert fork, and a place card.

Like the salad fork, the dessert fork would normally be smaller, in this case, the same height as the teaspoon.  The handle of the teaspoon should face right, while the handle of the dessert fork faces left.

If your meal plan calls for the salad to be served after the main course, the general arrangement of salad fork and then dinner fork is reversed, so the salad fork (generally the smaller of the two) would be directly to the left of the plate, followed by the larger, dinner fork. If you get confused when placing a utensil, just remember ‘outside-in.’

How-To: Table SettingsNow that you know the rules, feel free to toss them aside and do what fits you and your party. As Pablo Picasso once said, ‘Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.’

Mahlzeit and Happy Eating! xo, claire

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