As you all know I love a good tablescape. The decorations, flowers, table linen options, dinnerware, flatware and stemware…I love it all and of course the endless ways a table can be styled. While I can certainly talk at length about the various ways to decorate a table, I wanted to focus today's post on the the actual mechanics of properly setting a table. You have to learn to walk before you can run, right?!?
There are subtle differences between setting a formal dinner table and an informal table, and the placement of tableware pieces definitely matters. Below I have laid out examples of each, along with additional tips/highlights to keep in mind for each type of table setting.
- Commonly used for brunch, lunch and casual dinners
- Notice these meals typically do not have multiple courses, so setting out one simple set of flatware is plenty.
- Water and either a wine goblet or champagne flute, but this is casual so you do not need to set out every piece of stemware
- Knife blade should ALWAYS be facing inward towards the plate. The logic behind this rule- to avoid having the server cut his/her hand when clearing the dishes from the table.
- Commonly used for fancy sit-down dinners.
- Stemware- Water goblet at the top, then red wine glass in the middle and white wine glass in the lowest position. Once the guest selects their wine, clear away whichever wine glass isn't being used.
- Flatware- Include all flatware needed for the number of courses you plan to serve and place them in the order you plan to serve the dishes starting with the outward most utensils and working your way in. As you can see from my setting, I plan to serve soup, followed by salad, then a main course and a dessert that requires both a fork and spoon (positioned at the top).
- Place cards always go to the upper left hand side, in between the bread plate and water glass.
- For a detailed layout of both an informal and formal table setting, I would recommend checking out this Huffington Post article. They have a fabulous infographic.
Additional Etiquette Tips
Whether I am hosting or attending a dinner party (heck, even just going out to dinner) here are a few of my top etiquette tips I keep as my top of mind reference when dining. This is not meant to sound stuffy, rather it is just a nice guide for how to properly conduct yourself at the dinner table.
- Flag Down- I think I wanted to start with this one because it is my ultimate pet peeve when people leave their spoon (aka flag) in their soup bowl. Resting or finishing, the soup spoon (flag) should always be down at rest to the side of your bowl.
- Look to your Host/Hostess for Cues- When attending a sit-down dinner, you should look to your host/hostess for cues as to when to place your napkin in your lap and when to begin and be finished eating. Your host/hostess sets the pace for the table.
- Treat your napkin with respect- think of your napkin like a lease…normal wear and tear is fine, but using your napkin to say, blow your nose, is unacceptable (yes this has happened to me). Lovely dinner napkins are not kleenex nor are they bounty paper towel rolls, so please do your best to treat them with respect.
- Bread- when it comes to eating bread at the table, refrain from taking a bite straight out of the piece that has been served to you. Rather, consume by breaking off small pieces from the roll.
- Salt and Pepper- It doesn't matter if a fellow diner asks to pass the salt, pepper or both, you always pass them together. Think of the salt and pepper as a married couple who should never be divorced.
- Never reach across the table- I don't care if you are trying to avoid inconveniencing someone by grabbing an item yourself instead of having it passed, always ask someone to pass it and never reach. The likelihood that you will knock something over in the process of reaching is pretty high
- Utensil Placement: Done vs. Still Eating- This is an easy tip to remember and helpful for those around you (especially waiters) to know if you are done with your dish or still working on it. When you are still in the midst of consuming a dish, you can rest your utensils face-side down, crossed in the center of your plate (pictured below). When you are finished with a dish, utensils should be aligned parallel to the right hand side (also pictured below).
I swear, table étiquette has enough content to fill book three times over! At it's core, I personally feel that the information I have shared with you today are the essential nuts and bolts. Manners and traditions (like properly setting the table) are important and something that I certainly appreciate. Whether you decide to apply some or all of these tips in the future, you now have access to what I would consider to be the necessary information for properly setting your table and being a guest at someone else's table.
As always, if you have other etiquette questions not covered in today's post, feel free to contact me via my contact page or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a wonderful weekend everyone!