As the fall and winter entertaining season comes around, I like to renew my knowledge of proper table settings. Why? Setting a proper table is easy and will not only help with entertaining skills but prepare us to be guests at a proper dinner party.
Proper dining etiquette tips have not changed much in over 100 years because they work. For instance, the spacing gives each guest plenty of room to have a meal comfortably. So, to prepare yourself for a dinner party or attending one, I've included four elements, as well as a few extra tips, that will help you with any formal dinner party.
- Place settings should be evenly spaced and flatware balanced. The proper distance is 2 feet from center of plate to center of plate.
- Cups and glasses are on the right and salad and butter plates on the left
- Place silverware in order of use; from outside (first course) main course. Don't put out utensils you won't use.
- Forks to the left and knives and spoons to the right. The only exception to this rule is a small cocktail fork which goes on the outermost right side of the plate.
- If dessert is to be served, silverware should be placed above the dinner plate with the fork handle to the lift and the spoon or knife handle to the right.
- Dessert utensils may properly be placed on a sideboard or table with the dessert. The same is true for coffee cups and saucers and coffee spoons.
- Butter plate and spreader should be placed at the top of the fork service on the left. The butter knife or spreader should be laid at the top of the plate on an angle.
- Etiquette doyenne require napkins be placed to the left of the forks. I think you can properly place napkins in rings on the dinner plate. If the meal is a casual or family affair, I like to place napkins in the water-glass.
- For a formal or semi formal dinner I always use cloth napkins. I actually use cloth napkins everyday but that is another matter. These can be obtained for a small price at a discount store.
- Glasses should be placed in a straight line angled from the center to the outside of knife service. Place the largest glass first and put the rest in descending size order from largest to smallest. For instance, water-glass being largest goes at top, then wine glass and then dessert glass. Do not put on glasses you will not use. If you are not serving wine do not put out wine glasses.
- It is perfectly acceptable to mix types and colors of glass-ware. For instance, silver water goblets with clear glass wine glasses or clear glass with colored glass.
- Chargers are a modern accessory that can be used in addition to a tablecloth or alone on a table to protect the surface from the heat of the plate. These are available in plastic, wood, woven straw and even capiz shells. The use of the charger saves from having a tablecloth to wash.
- Use foil wrapped candy at holiday time as place cards by writing the name on the foil with a permanent marker. This is inexpensive, festive and acts as sweet treat for the guests.
- Set up an after dinner drink and dessert station in the dining room so that guests may serve themselves.
- Keep centerpieces low so that guests may have a conversation with those across or around the table.
- Mix and match your flatware. Whether it be silver, silver plate or stainless, adding different patterns keeps the table interesting.
- Be inventive. Use oversize coffee cups for salad bowls or maybe parfait glasses as wine glasses. I have used sherbert glasses as wine glasses and it worked quite well.
- Use old-fashioned salt cellars. They are convenient and can be found at flea markets and antique shops.
- Use cloth napkins. They can be bought at discount stores and most are wash and fold.
- Use place cards. These are available online and at many specialty shops. You can mix people up that might not ordinarily sit together and it keeps the conversation interesting. These can be placed at the 12 noon position at plate.
- For informal meals I use one butter plate and one butter knife. This saves space and works well for up to four people.
This basic guide for a proper table setting will serve you well but it is quite all right to add your own touch. Basic etiquette is concerned with being polite. If your table setting follows the basic rules, your guests will know exactly how to handle the meal with ease. Do not use utensils or dishes you won't be using. This is pretentious and confusing. Many a table I have set with only a dinner fork and a knife. Even a salad fork can be unnecessary except on the most formal occasions. Remember you are doing this so you and others can enjoy a meal and each other.