Since this blog is all about tablescapes, I thought that we would take a step back and start with the basics, “How To Set a Proper Table”.
It is often said that we eat with our eyes and I don’t think that just starts with the food. I think the table setting sets the mood for the meal as well.
I realize that life is so busy these days and many people eat on the go or in front of the TV when you get home after a long day; but when you have the time, it’s great to slow down and share a meal with the people you care about.
Below are some of the “old school” rules for setting a proper table.
The informal setting is pretty basic and I am sure this is how many of you already set your table for a lot of occasions.
For an informal setting or lunch, I use placemats at every place setting, or nothing at all (Tablecloths are optional). If you don’t use a placemat, make sure the plate is set two inches from the edge of the table and it is placed so that it centers the chair.
The forks go on the left and the spoon and knives are on the right of the plate.The spoon will be on the outside and the knife on the inside with the blade facing the plate. Just in case you forget this order, just take the advice of my son when he was very young setting the table….I kept asking him if remembered where everything went and he turned around and said, “Yes, I remember, it’s alphabetical left to right”. I have to admit that this was something I never thought of myself and I was amazed that he did at such a young age.
If you are serving a salad or soup then a salad fork is placed on the outside of the dinner fork further to the left. The same principal applies for a soup spoon, on the outside of the dinner spoon further to the right. Teaspoons to the right of the dinner knife.
Flatware is set up by course, so use the flatware from the “outside to the inside” left and right and work towards the plate as the meal progresses. The flatware should align with the bottom rim of the dinner plate.
Dessert forks and spoons are brought out when you serve dessert.
The napkin is placed under the forks, or in the middle of the place setting.
Place salt and pepper shakers are usually placed between two place settings. If someone asks you to pass the salt, pass the pepper as well. The pair should always travel together. (Little extra info – since most people use salt than pepper (and most people are right handed), the salt shaker is placed to the right of the pepper shaker, in a position closer to the right hand).
Water glasses are always above the knife and to the right of the dinner plate and the wine glass is to it’s right.
Pretty easy and basic enough and now we move on.
Then we have the formal table setting where the informal setting rules still apply but now we have more glassware, plates and flatware to deal with. This setting is usually used for holidays and special occasion like a wedding.
Food is served from the left
Dishes are removed from the right.
For a formal setting I would definitely use a cloth tablecloth, cloth napkins and a charger plate at every place setting. A charger, or presentation plate (also called service plate), is purely a decorative over-sized plate (usually 13 inches) used to add color, texture or pattern to the table. I use chargers all the time because I like the look it adds to the table. It makes your dinnerware really stand out. Charger plates range in price depending on the material it is made of. I have a mix of inexpensive and expensive chargers (such as mirror or glass) and alternate them depending on the holiday.
Food is never served directly on a charger, but a first course soup bowl or salad plate can be set on a charger. The charger plates should be cleared from the table along with any soup bowl or salad plate before serving the main course.
(I have to admit that there are certain holidays that I keep the charger plates out during the entire meal because I just love how it brightens up the table. Yes, I know, I broke a rule but I had to tell you the truth).
We also introduce the bread and butter plate and butter spreader with a formal place setting. The bread plate sits above the dinner plate to the left and the spreader is placed diagonally over the plate.
Place napkins to the left of the forks if there’s room on the table; otherwise, you can place them under the forks, or position them on the charger.
Dessert forks and spoons are usually placed on the table before the meal, directly above the place setting, positioned horizontally. Make sure that the fork tine’s are set facing Right and the spoon’s bowl is facing Left, and the fork is closer to the place setting than the spoon.
Depending on how many different wines are being served, wine glasses should be placed above the knives to the right of the water glass, and then follow in the order for which they will be used, working from left to right.
For glassware follow this rule:
Water – Champagne – White Wine- Red Wine – Dessert Wine
When dessert is served, all wineglasses (except dessert-wine glasses), bread plates, and salt and pepper shakers should be cleared from the table. Dessert flatware can either be set above the dinner plate or charger at the initial table setting as mentioned above, or it can be carried in on a tray at dessert time, along with coffee cups and saucers. Water glasses remain on the table for the duration of the meal.
But there is one thing that still bothers me. I am so limited with my knowledge of the glassware rules, other than the basic rule that the water glasses are always above the knife and to the right of the dinner plate followed by the wines glasses to the right of the water glass.
Glassware becomes very confusing when you start to serve multiple wines and you don’t know what glasses are for what beverage. I did a little research on didyouknow.org and this is what I discovered…
Which glasses go with what drinks…
Water | Brandy | White wine | Pinor Noir/Burgundy | Sparkling wine | Red wine
a. Water: full body glass with short stem. Hold the glass by the stem to preserve its chill.
b. Brandy: brandy snifter. Roll the snifter between both hands and then cup it in one hand – warming the glass brings out the bouquet in brandy.
c. White wine: slightly smaller glass with wider bowl to capture the bouquet. Hold the glass by the stem to preserve its chill.
d. Burgundy Reds and Pinot Noirs: a wide bowl to bring out their complexity. The glass is slightly taller than the white wine glass.
e. Champagne: a narrow fluted glass, which reduces the wine’s surface area and keep the bubbles from dissipating.
f. Red wine: the bigger of the wine glasses. Hold the glass at the bottom of the bowl where it meets the stem.
I hope this information helps clear up some of the confusion with glassware.
And last but not least, these are the basic etiquette rules I taught my son when he was a young boy. I feel it is very important to raise a child with good table manners. Etiquette rules are really there to make you more comfortable than uncomfortable. It gives you confidence that you are behaving appropriately in social situations. I can’t tell you how many compliments we received when my son was young that he was so well behaved..we were (and still are) always so proud of him.
1. When seated, unfold the napkin and place it across your lap. (In some 5 star restaurants the waiter will do this for you). If you must leave the table, place the soiled side of your napkin down to the left of your dinner plate.
2. If bread rolls are served, break the bread between your fingers rather than cut it. Butter only the piece you are preparing to eat. Butter, spreads and dips should be transferred from the serving dish to your plate before spreading or eating, so put some butter on your bread plate and use as needed.
3. When eating soup, always move the soup spoon away from you to the other side of the bowl and “sip” the soup (Quietly! ) from it. No one needs to hear slurping at the table. It is proper to tip a soup bowl slightly away from you to get all of the soup. If you need to set your soup spoon down, place it in the bowl. Do not put it on the dish or under-plate of the bowl (or if served in a cup, the saucer) until finished.
(I always have to have a soup spoons, and the best soup spoons I ever bought were from Chef’s catalog- check them out if you are interested in soup spoons).
4. If it is appropriate for a finger bowl to be served, (for example after some hands on meals like ribs) gently clean the fingers in the warm scented water, one hand at a time, and dry your fingers on your napkin. Never dip your napkin into the finger bowl; this is not a time to wash your face.
5. Unless you are responding to a specific request for an item, pass from left to right.
6. Never place a used utensil back on the table (this included chopsticks). Used utensils should be placed on your plate or on a saucer. Between bites, your knife and fork are placed on the plate, handles to the right, not touching the table.
7. Do not talk with food in your mouth, or chew with your mouth open (Here is one of my pet peeves – It absolutely sends chills up my spine when people chew with their mouth open and makes me lose my appetite).
8. For hard to scoop items (like peas), use your knife or a piece of bread to push the items onto your fork. Do not use your fingers.
9. Do not blow your nose at the dinner table. Excuse yourself to visit the restroom. Wash your hands before returning to the table.
10. When finished eating, do not push the plate away from you, simply position the knife and fork side by side across the center of the plate, handles to the right. (There are other rules pertaining to this. I have read that you should place your knife and fork strategically on the plate at the 10 am & 4 pm positions, but I think that is too hard for a child to take in and understand).
And there you have it, the basic rules for setting an informal and formal place setting plus my little etiquette tips. I hope this post helped answer any questions you might have had. Another time we will prepare a table setting for a casual lunch and a buffet table.
Until my next post, stay well and make every day a celebration!