Illustration The Silvers by Terry Rosen
Dinner parties originated in a time and place where people employed domestic servants to keep track of the myriad and varied customs associated with a formal dinner event. The proper placement of every item on the table can be fretted and worried over until the basic function of the event is lost to memory. How is a charger used? How to place a champagne flute when there are two other glasses already at the ready? With a few simple rules, anyone with the will can set a table to remember for their next party.
Casual Table Refresher
These basic table setting rules are ideal for everyday meals, and add a bit of style to a small dinner party or get-together:
- Drinking glasses should always be above the plate and off to the right, within easy reach.
- Forks go on the left side of the dinner plate and the knife and spoon go on the right of the plate, shorter utensils on the outside of longer ones.
- The primary (dinner) plate should always be centered and the salad plate should go above it and off to the left, opposite the drinking glasses.
Seasonal décor and centerpieces should be centered on the table and should be intended for the entire table's viewing. No place cards are necessary at a casual table setting.
This hybrid formal/informal setting mixes two china patterns for a more elegant look.
When you choose a more formal table setting the rules start to pile up. The sheer number of pieces you may need to provide for each guest demands it. These occasions are the reason people stock up on settings in their wedding china. Due to the distinct likelihood that this meal will consist of multiple courses, each must have its own dish and utensil.
At a formal meal provide individual place cards and a small token of affection for each guest. Large tables may provide the opportunity for multiple centerpieces and visual cues. The host and/or hostess should always be seated at the head of the table so that your guests will always be able interact with you. Should any courses require unusual service, you are expected to provide instructions or aid.
Up to five drinking glasses can be used at a dinner party. The water or iced beverage glass should be set directly above the dinner knife, with the champagne flute directly to its right. Smaller glasses are arrayed in front of those two or they continue if space allows from left to right: red wine, white wine and sherry.
Centered in front of each chair is the service plate (or charger) which will serve as a backdrop for all the other courses. Normally, unless the event is completely full service, the dinner plate, then the salad plate, then the soup bowl will all be stacked on the charger starting at the beginning of the meal and cleared away after each use. Sometimes the charger is removed as the main course is brought in on the dinner plate. Before the meal begins, the napkin should be folded attractively on top of this pile of china. A bread plate is placed opposite the glasses, above the forks.
Flatware placement follows the general rule that items on the outside are used first and removed after each course, working inwards as the dinner progresses. The meat knife is placed on the right, edge-in, and is followed by the fish knife and salad knife (if used), then the soup spoon and then the oyster fork. On the left side of the plate go the forks, arrayed in a similar fashion. Dessert flatware should be brought with dessert. A butter knife should be placed atop the bread plate on a diagonal with the handle pointed towards your guest.
Remember that a dinner party is a social event. These rules as well as the larger volume of dinner etiquette rules are for formality's sake only and can be adapted to meet your needs. Once you have a handle on how the place settings are to be set out, you can turn to more aesthetic choices. China can be mixed and matched to produce unique combinations that your diners will remember.
This regal holiday setting emphasizes visual appeal over traditionalism.
About the Author
Molly Mulvaney is a sales associate at Bering's Hardware in Houston, TX. Bering's is well known for a broad range of carefully selected home goods such as kitchen products to grilling products and accessories, as well as fine crystal stemware. Molly enjoys spending time with her family and friends, attending graduate school, doing crossfit, being outside, watching movies, and eating sweets.