Category Archives: Diane’s Tips

How To Set a Proper Table

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.

place-setting-informal- INFORMAL

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.

placesetting- formal with champagne - FORMAL

 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 and this is what I discovered…

Which glasses go with what drinks…   


Diane’s tips – The list

The first thing I do when I am getting ready for any occasion is start “The List”. This includes the guest list of course, theme and or color scheme of the party and then we move on…

For parties in a restaurant or catering hallonce you decide where you want the event to take place, call and set a date and time, meet with the catering manager and take it from there. Don’t be afraid to discuss what you would like as far as a menu and if they can accommodate your theme or color scheme.

For parties at home-

Once the theme or color scheme have been decided, I write the menu.

When I have some idea of my menu, I gather all my recipes that I will need and write one shopping list for my groceries separated between perishable and non-perishable. ( I don’t usually make this the time to try out any new recipes- keep it simple and stay with the recipes you are familiar and comfortable with.) The non-perishable items you can start buying immediately to take some of the pressure off grocery shopping closer to your event. Decide if there will be any store bought items or anything catered as well and add that to the list with the store, restaurant or deli’s name and phone number.

After the grocery list and menu are complete, I put printed copies of all the recipes I will be using in a folder (either recipe cards or if a recipe is online, a printed copy). You don’t want to go from one place to another to gather the recipe directions that you need the day you start cooking. Make your life as easy, streamlined and stress free as possible. In the folder I also include a printed timeline for getting everything done, so there is no last minute panic…we’ll discuss that later.

Next, decide on the tablescape – dishes, linens, serving pieces and centerpieces. Which brings us to my next step “preparation”.

Diane’s tips- Preparation

Once you have decided on the tablescape, my next tip will definitely be a blessing. Whatever the occasion (party, sit down dinner, buffet or family holiday), make sure you set your table at least 2-3 days before the event. It sounds crazy but trust me, you will be a lot happier. It allows you enough time (while you are relaxed) to wash all the dishes, cutlery and stemware and see if anything is chipped or broken and has to be replaced and you can take your time ironing your tablecloth and napkins if needed. You have a chance to calmly look at the entire tablescape and decide if you are missing anything and tweak any little problem.

I also take out my serving pieces at this time, wash them and put post-it notes on them listing what I am serving in that particular platter or bowl. This eliminates the last minute rushing around looking for another serving bowl or platter that you forgot you needed, while the doorbell is ringing and guests are arriving.

Back to the timeline list…I usually start my timeline list for 1 week before the event and check off every item when it is completed. The list includes shopping for perishable food items and a cooking schedule ( what dishes can be made ahead of time, what needs to be made the day of the event and what has to be delivered or picked up from a caterer or restaurant). The list guarantees you don’t forget anything and all the entrees are put in the oven or on the stove top with enough cooking time to be done before your guests arrive.

A little preparation will have your get together off to a good start and you will be a happy relaxed hostess ready to enjoy all your guests.

Diane’s Tips – Enjoy Your Party

The biggest tip I can give you is be a part of your party. Enjoy your friends and family; don’t spend all your time serving guests or worrying about every little thing and then the party is over and you are exhausted and didn’t enjoy yourself. Some things will not go as planned (and that happens more times than not) so go with the flow. Most of the time only you know there was a mistake.

There are the occasions when people will notice and that is ok too. Don’t sweat it. I know this sounds odd coming from a person obsessed with party planning down to every last detail, but if you don’t have a good time at your own event, it’s just not worth it. Remember, we all have those days when everything seems to be crumbling around us. Make lemonade out of lemons.

For example, a few years ago (in June), I set up tablescapes for my son’s high school graduation party on the patio of a restaurant which took me quite some time to set up ; for each table I set up beautiful floral arrangements with balloons, color coordinated linens, and beautiful favors. Unfortunately the temperature reached 102 degrees midway through the party and my guests (and the staff) were wilting in the heat. So we had to rush inside for the air conditioning, leaving the decorations outside. The restaurant was full so we had to crowd into the only space they had (and I mean crowd) into the back corner of the dining area. The tablescapes wilted outside along with the flowers but the food was good, the company was great and we had a good time…just not too many pictures that day. No one wants a picture of themselves, sweating and gasping for air from the heat. At least we have pictures from the ceremony.

On another occasion, (my husband’s 50th birthday) after months of planning with the hostess of another restaurant and going over every little detail, the restaurant served the main entrée before the passed hors d’ oeuvres went around- no one noticed that but me. Guests were just mingling, eating and talking, having a good time and I think they thought this was a new trend to serve hors d’ oeuvres after dinner- it all worked out.

So I am not telling you to never have a party at a restaurant because there are problems, I am just saying to relax and enjoy the party, the moment, the occasion, no matter where you are. Make the memories…

Diane’s Tips – Every Day is Special

DON’T save the good china for special occasions! Every day is special. Use the dishes, enjoy them. You bought the china because you love the pattern so use them! I saved my Lenox china that I received for my bridal shower for years before I used them and once they were out I didn’t want to put them away (they were so pretty). So I made a deal with myself right then and there to use and enjoy all my dishes and not just have them collect dust…

Diane’s Tips – Where Do I Start?

To get started for any party or get together pick a theme and or just a color scheme and go from there.

Shop what you own first. Who knows, maybe that Christmas or birthday gift you are storing in the closet that you never used will be the perfect accent for a tablescape. Figurines, picture frames, trinket boxes can all be used to highlight the theme.

Need flowers or a touch of nature? Before calling the florist, look in your own backyard. Lilacs, hydrangeas, roses or any greenery and pine cones may be all you need to perk up a centerpiece. Even vegetables and fruits. A bowl of lemons or artichokes are a great centerpiece.