Easy tips for setting your table, for every day!
When my kids were at home, we always ate our meals at the kitchen table, and if I was having a party, the meal would move to the dining room. Somehow all that changed when the kids left for college. There were times that it seemed like it was just too much effort to set the table – after all, it was “just us” – and on occasion, we would find ourselves eating in front of the TV.
Not too long after the kids left for college, I decided that we would no longer be eating in front of the “boob tube.” We would return to the table where we could have a real conversation together, find out what went on during each of our days and get re-connected after a long day of work.
To be honest, my preference has always been to enjoy a nice meal and conversation around a table with my friends and family. That means setting the table! When you do it right, even your garden variety basic meal can be turned into something everyone enjoys. All you need to do is take the time to put everything in order on your tabletop.
Don’t be embarrassed though if you can’t remember where to put the bread plate and whether (or if) you should put out a soup spoon. It can get very confusing and so many people get it wrong. After twenty years of owning restaurants, the right place setting is practically tattooed on the inside of my eyelids. I still fight the urge to fold napkins when I’m at a friend’s home for dinner.
Always remember this one basic rule: set your table for the meal you’re having, not for a fancy party (unless of course, that’s precisely what you’ve planned). If you’re not having soup, don’t put out a soup spoon. If you’re not serving bread, don’t put out a bread plate. To be honest, unless you’re setting a formal table you don’t really need that bread plate anyway.
According to Emily Post, a place setting is an array of dishes and utensils and the dinner plate is the “hub of the wheel.” But, if your goal is to entertain friends and encourage conversation, don’t get too fancy.
I usually set an informal table. I like to “stack” my plates: dinner plate on the bottom, with salad plate on top (if I’m serving salad). Where I put the napkin depends on my mood – sometimes I put it under the forks (like my mother did), sometimes it’s folded on top of the dinner/salad plate, sometimes I use a napkin ring, and sometimes I put it in the water glass! It just all depends on how I want the table to look that day.
Forks always go on the left of the dinner plate with the largest fork closest to the plate and then smaller ones next to that. Knives are placed to the right of the plate and spoons to the right of the knife. The sharp edge of all knives should be turned to face the plate. Placing the sharp edge of the knife facing inwards dates back several hundred years when it was considered aggressive to place the sharp edge of the knife facing outwards. The bread plate goes on the left, above the forks.
Place water, champagne, and wine glasses in a line on the right, just above the knife and spoons. And remember, the water glass is the first glass placed with champagne and wine glasses to the right of the water glass.
Remember, simplicity! Only set the pieces that you will use during the meal, but if you’re serving dessert, you can place the dessert fork above the plate (I like the way that looks). That means that if you’re not serving champagne, don’t put a champagne glass on the table. I like to set coffee cups and dessert plates out only when it’s time – otherwise, the table gets way too cluttered, and on my table, all that extra stuff won’t leave any room for the actual food!
Just because you might be having a very casual BBQ outside, or serving hamburgers and hot dogs for dinner, and you’ve chosen to use heavy paper plates and plastic forks and knives to simplify clean up, doesn’t mean that setting all the pieces in their proper place on the table won’t make it feel special. You might want to use string or ribbon as a napkin ring to dress it up just a little bit. You can even make a “roll up” out of the napkin, plastic ware and a piece of string (it’s what restaurants give you when you order “to go”) to make your very casual table more fun!
By the way, there is nothing better than a little candlelight to add a little ambiance to the meal. Even if your tabletop is completely disposable, dim the lights, light some candles, and – voila – you’ve just added something fun to the experience. Never use scented candles at a table. Seriously. Who wants “country cinnamon” competing with the Pasta Bolognese that you labored over in the kitchen?
What you want is a comfortable setting that eases everyone into an enjoyable dinner experience.