Entertaining can be a daunting task. There are the obvious tasks, like invitations to extend and food to prepare. Another important detail is setting the table — not just putting out plates, glasses and flatware, but setting each place properly. Whether you are hosting a formal dinner party or something more casual, these rules will help you to set a lovely canvas for a delicious meal.
Begin setting the plates out on the table. Try to make them as evenly spaced as possible so your guests have plenty of elbow room during the meal. If you are a bit of a perfectionist, bring a ruler to the table and measure the distance from plate to plate, which should be two feet from plate center to plate center. Once you have your plates set, the rest is easy!
I’m sure you’re familiar with the scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts’s character is completely confused by the silverware at a fancy restaurant. To avoid this, always remember to start from the outside. Begin with the silverware you need for the first course and set that on the outside. Then, work your way in towards the plate. Forks belong to the left of the plate, and spoons and knives to the right. And of course, this rule has a couple exceptions. If you have a cocktail fork, that belongs on the outer right side. Dessert silverware, if you choose to set it on the table at the beginning of the meal, belongs at the top of the plate. However, I find that it is easier and less stressful for everyone if dessert items come to the table at the end of the meal after everything else has been cleared away.
Once all the flatware is in place, be sure the knife blades are facing the plate and the handles are aligned (another great time to use that ruler).
If you are feeling super fancy, you can use cloth napkins with napkin rings. Or, you can use a very simple folding method (shown here). Whichever method you choose, place a napkin in the center of each plate at the table.
For a formal dinner, you should have a water glass, white wine glass, and red wine glass for each guest. Personally, once I know what my guests are drinking, I remove any extra glasses so the table is less cluttered. If you plan to serve coffee at the end of the meal, you can also include a coffee cup and saucer. Or, as with the dessert dishes, you can bring these out at the end of the meal.
When I’m hosting a more casual dinner, I keep the place settings basic. Do what works best for your occasion while keeping the following basic rules in mind:
The rest is up to you! Just remember to set your table before your guests arrive so you can think about what you are doing and where everything belongs. If you work better with visuals, here is a simple diagram to follow. And if there’s time, add little touches to the table to reflect the mood of the event. Little flowers at each place, or bundles of herbs tied with twine can add subtle personality to the table while it waits for the main star: your food!
Rachael White is the author of the blogs Set the Table and Tokyo Terrace. After four years of living, eating, and entertaining in Tokyo, Japan, she and her family have relocated to Denver, Colorado. Rachael is constantly searching for new ways to make entertaining easier and more interesting for guests in a variety of environments and situations. In addition to food blogging, her recipes have been published in cookbooks including Foodista Best of Food Blogs and Peko Peko: A Charity Cookbook for Japan and in Japan’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper. Originally from Minnesota, Rachael strives to recreate recipes and settings that reflect Midwestern comfort with a modern twist.