Basic Table Setting:
Why? Because we eat with our eyes. The way the table is laid out can really add to --or really take away from-- the entire experience. Additionally, table settings can smooth the progression of a meal so that everything is easily served, reached, and eaten... all without having long sleeves land in soup!
Basic table settings are perfectly elegant and acceptable for most occasions. But if you're looking for the ultra proper way to set a table, check out my page on formal dinner table settings. Also take a peek at:
- Table Decorating Ideas
- 10 Inexpensive Table Centerpieces
- 12 Ideas for Homemade Table Centerpieces
- Dinner Party Themes and Decoration Ideas
The Proper Way to Set a Dinner TableWant to set a table properly? Follow the general guideline below, or take a look at my basic table diagram below. You can also find all of this information in more detail in my formal dinner table setting guide.
Now, let's start with the basics:
Tablecloth and PlacematsIf you have placemats, put one at each spot, centered in front of each chair. Place mats should be about 1" back from the edge of the table (making your plate about 2" back). Ditto on the spacing if you're using a table runner-- make sure it's evenly spaced between each side of the table.
Plates and China
Your serving plate/dinner plate will go right in the center of your placemat, if you're using one, or in area directly in front of the center of the guests' chair. If you're serving soup or an at-table salad, the soup/salad bowl goes on top of the plate.
Optional: Most simple table settings don't use one, but if you opt for a bread or roll plate, it goes above your forks on the left.
SilverwareSilverware gets set up adjacent to the plate with a knife tight on the right (blade in) and the main fork on the left. If you use salad or appetizer forks, they go on the outside of the main fork further left. The spoon goes on the right adjacent to the knife. (see diagram below)
This basic table setting silverware arrangement is a lot simpler and more "instinctual" than with a formal table-- but uses the same concepts. There's just less of it!
Glasses and GlasswareWhen planning your glasses and glassware, it's a good idea to plan your menu first. If you've got limited space, ask your guests in advance if they want wine, water, or coffee (or simply plan what you'd like to serve). This will save you putting out three different beverage containers for each place setting.
In most cases, a simple table setting will require a wine glass and a water glass, and no more. But in all cases, the drink glasses go up above the knife and to the right of the plate-- but not so far as people have to over-reach.
NapkinsWhen putting together a basic table setting, one of the ways you can really get creative is with napkins. Now, there's nothing wrong with opting for a nice paper napkin-- the proper way to set a table doesn't always have to include a cloth napkin. That said, a cloth napkin is inexpensive, reusable, and a great way to add a touch of elegance to your dinner table. Either way, napkins can be placed at the center of the plate, to the left of the silverware, or even tucked into a wine glass.
Basic Dinner Table
Table Decorations and CenterpiecesOn of my favorite things about opting for a basic table setting rather than a more formal one? You have a lot more flexibility when playing with color and with table decorations. There's no need to stick with white... you can always go with the colors, patterns, and themes you like best. Be bold and have fun with it!
If you're going to include a centerpiece, it's a good idea to keep it low and tasteful. People should be able to see over the dinner table centerpiece easily-- so they can carry on conversation. And check out these pages for centerpiece ideas:
Letting the Kids Help OutDo the kids want to help prepare for the party? Letting children set the table makes them feel more involved in the event-- a great way to start off a Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner. However, you have to give children a little more leeway than adults in terms of making a so-called proper table.
Be careful that you don't give a child a part of the table setting that they're really not able to handle. For example, let the older children handle good china, and show younger children how to lay out tableware and napkins. As you're teaching children how to set a table, it helps to have one sample place setting as a model they can follow.
Dinner Table Seating TipsPlanning your seating even with a basic table setting isn't always an easy task. As a general rule, plan your seating as follows:
- The hostess typically sits at the foot of the table
- The guest of honor sits on the right of the hostess
- The host sits at the head of the table
- Couples should be split up to make conversation flow better
This arrangement is purposeful so that when serving, your "guest of honor" gets first dibs, and everybody gets talking.
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Choosing a Theme for Your Dinner Table
Putting together a basic table setting takes on a whole new meaning if you're having a themed dinner or dinner party!
For instance, if you're working with a historical theme, you can refer to the era in question and take a look at what was customary at that time. Edwardian and Victorian tables, for example, were quite elaborate and included mirrors, statuary, flowers, candelabras and various fanciful wine glasses. By following the historical patterns that match your party theme, you create an ambiance that transports your guests to wherever (and whenever) you want them to be!
Keep it Simple. The truth is, getting the hang of basic table setting isn't overly hard. It just takes a little practice and some forethought (i.e. making sure you have enough dishes for each setting). Think of it this way: a table setting is intended to lay out the items in the order you'll be using them. The etiquette of dining revolves around that, and around making guests comfortable while providing them with a beautiful table.
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