How to set your table in style for a Dinner Party
Jun 18, 2019

The fine dining experience begins with an elegant place setting, in readiness for the guests as they sit down. To recreate this in your home, you will need to be well prepared in good time, even as far in advance as the day before, so there is no last minute scrabble and each guest will have a clearly defined place. Follow this guide and it will get your dinner party off on the right path from the minute the guests arrive at your table.

General Principles

Once your menu is decided begin to visualise, or even get out all the silverware, crockery and glasses you will need for the whole meal, course by course. This will ensure that:

you have enough of everything without the embarrassment of washing up in the middle and if not, you have time to buy, borrow or hire some more

  • the table can be completely ready well ahead
  • you can check that the table gives the impression you have chosen and not the impression you have ended up with
  • you know that the guest will feel comfortable in knowing which cutlery to use and glass to drink from
  • you know how much room you will need for each person so you can alter your table size or guest placing accordingly

As a rule, forks are to the left, spoons and knives to the right of the setting, blades of knives face the plates, glasses to the right and napkin and side plate to the left

A formal place setting

These days a very formal place setting might be thought of as a tad old fashioned, however there are occasions when you would need it, such as for important guests or a very special occasion, so here it is:

  1. Begin with the dinner plate or the service plate that will sit underneath it and set it centrally within the place allocated for the guest. It should be about an inch from the edge of the table, and will guide where you put everything else.
  2. Next place the silverware, work backwards through the courses as you start from the plate and work outwards, try to imagine a median line through the centre of your setting, or stick to around and inch from the edge of the table.
  3. Above the plate place the cheese knife, handle to the right and blade downwards, next the dessert fork, handle towards the left and dessert spoon at the top, handle to the right.
  4. On either side of the plate place the main course silverware nearest, then the fish course, finally the appetiser or soup spoon.
  5. If you are serving amuse bouche or palate cleansers then the appropriate silverware should be presented with each.
  6. Now place the glasses above and to the right, working from right to left white wine, red wine, water glass. The dessert wine glass may be presented  with the dessert course.
  7. Finally above and to the left should come the side plate with dessert knife placed diagonally across, handle towards the right and the napkin, preferably fabric and folded to a rectangle below the plate.

Informal place setting

Mostly you will probably want something a little less formal, think about fine restaurants, there will be silverware for the appetiser and main, wine and water glasses, napkin and possibly a side plate set out as described above.

Before the dessert the waiter will reset the silverware, and bring appropriate plates and knives after that for the cheese. You too can do this and there are pros and cons :

  • You could get away with a quick rinse and use again, but remember your guests will be without you at the table whilst this is going on.
  • The table would look less cluttered and guests would be more sure of which knife and fork to use, but then you would need to go around the table in the middle of the meal to reset the silverware for the next course, which can look a bit too informal and gives you less time to concentrate on socialising.
  • Similarly, unless you are matching different wines to each course, people will probably stick to the same one throughout, therefore will not need more than one wine glass, so you could remove the extras at the start, as indeed they do in restaurants. This again will take time and disrupt the seamless organisation you are aiming for, though the table will be less crowded, and eliminate the dilemma of ‘which glass is mine?’

The choice is yours and you will know what is suitable for each occasion, if the less formal is more your style, just bear in mind that fine restaurants have lots of staff to see to the table as the meal progresses, at home there is only you!

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