|Matching placesettings (plates, glasses and utensils) for
every person at the table
A clean towel
A decorative centerpiece--
|At least a half-hour before guests arrive|
|Flatware: a set of matching knives, forks, and spoons.
It's usually silver, but many stainless sets, and even gold-plate sets,
are also used.
Placesetting: a space on the table for each guest. This includes flatware, water glass, wine glass, and napkin.
|Try not to set out any flatware that diners will
not be using; this only creates confusion. The one basic exception is the
spoon, which completes the basic knife-fork-spoon combo. Place a spoon
whether the meal requires one or not.
When multiple courses are served, have the plates and flatware removed from each placesetting before bringing out the next dish.
|Don't drink from the fingerbowl!
You've just invited the boss to dinner at your house, and TV trays just won't do. Or you want to impress that special someone with a hot, home-cooked meal, but can't remember which side the fork goes on.
Never fear. Here are some basic guidelines and rules of etiquette to setting tables from intimate tête-à-têtes to banquets for a crowd. Some forethought and organization will allow you and your guests to spend the dinner hour enjoying food and conversation rather than navigating the flatware.
The basic placesetting discussed here has been developed over centuries of European and American dining. Some differences exist from country to country and even family to family and are often argued with remarkable passion. Still, a few basic guidelines are generally accepted and will be adhered to in most American banquet halls.
We'll talk about three types of placesettings: a basic setting, a formal
banquet setting and variations on folding the napkins.
Check what you have
Take out the flatware, dishes, glassware and tablecloth or placemats that you intend to use. Are they dusty? Soiled from the last time you used them? More often, the worst culprit will be a little dust. Take a clean dish towel and rub the dust from glasses and plates. Use a polishing cloth to shine up your flatware.
If you use a tablecloth, make sure it's clean and pressed. You do not want any stains to remind visitors of last year's Christmas dinner. Inspect your tablecloth, placemats and napkins early to be sure they are presentable. Give yourself time for a last-minute wash if needed.
Understand the basics
Rule 1. Everyone at the table gets a placesetting, whether or not they intend to eat. Anyone can change their mind at the last minute, and only a careless host or hostess would be caught unprepared.
Rule 2. Flatware is placed evenly on either side of the plate in a manner comfortable to use by a right-handed person (sorry lefties, this one never varies). Forks go on the left, knives and spoons on the right. The cutting edge of the knife should point towards the plate. Spoons go to the outside of knives.
Rule 3. Place the flatware in the order it will be used, with the first utensils set furthest away from the plate. The idea is to avoid rooting around for the appropriate fork or confusing your guests.
Master the standard placesetting
It may take a bit of fussing around the first few times out, but nothing impresses a guest so easily as a perfectly set table. Chalk it up to the communal nature of mankind, or synchronicity or tribalism or whatever, but a precisely set banquet of multiple settings creates a wonderful atmosphere. Even if it's just you and a guest, a placesetting helps you feel important on that special occasion when you turn off the television set and eat in the dining room.
Generally, the more formal the occasion, the more courses are served, which of course means more flatware. There should be a different set of utensils for each course: salad fork, dinner fork; dinner knife, bread knife; and so on.
Some special dishes such as oysters have special utensils. These can be served at the presentation of the food, but generally are placed on the table in order of course. When oysters are served as an appetizer for example, set the oyster fork to the right of the spoon.
Building from the basic set-up (see above), the following utensils may be added.
Master the napkin variations
One way to vary table settings is through napkin folding -- an art in itself -- and placement. Try one of the following simple and exotic variations when you really want to show off.
Two simple, effective techniques:
Adapt to your circumstances
Uncommon utensils: If you have some specialized pieces of silverware that you're dying to show off, think up a dish you can use them for, and add it to the menu. Got shrimp forks? Use them for shrimp, not fondue.
Left-handed diners: If formal arrangements are awkward, try to seat left-handed guests at the left end of a long table. The informed host should make this allowance for lefties, but please don't insist upon it. The result could mean an embarrassed guest.
Small tables: Sometimes, small tables and numerous guests make crowded gatherings. If you find you are running out of room for your placesettings, rearrange each setting with the utensils grouped more closely together. The most important thing is that each setting looks identical to every other setting.
Tablecloths versus placemats: Placemats seem to be a matter of taste and convenience rather than convention. An attractive set of placemats can add color to the table and initiate an enjoyable conversation, but if you are showing off with a fine white linen tablecloth you may find placemats unnecessary.