Thursday, January 12, 2012

How to Set the Table...The Right Way

You may or may not think I'm a huge snob after reading this post.  But it's one I've had in my hip-pocket for quite some time now.  And setting a table, either for a casual dinner with close friends or for a formal event with tons of guests, can be a daunting task!  It's easy to get confused, so I thought I'd shed some light...

As a little girl, one of my chores was to set the table for dinner every evening (my older brother cleared!).  My mom, a fabulous cook and hostess (aka an amazing entertainer) made sure I knew the proper way to set a table, no matter what the occasion.  It is one of her pet peeves when she has dinner at someone's house - or even at a restaurant - and things are in the wrong position.  Yes, she's called me after dinner at my aunt's house to report that the forks were on the wrong side and after a celebration meal at a high falootin' eatery downtown that the wine glass and water glass were inverted.  No, my mama is not a snob!  I promise.  She's one of the nicest, most humble and gracious, giving, and selfless people I know.  I wish I could be more like my mama!  But it is our thing to comment privately, just between the two of us at some of the awkward table configurations we've seen over the years.

And, since I'm a lil Southern Gal, I thought I might incorporate an etiquette section on my blog.  What do you think?  Worth it?  I don't want to offend people...or scare off my in real life friends from inviting me to their houses for dinner.  But I enjoy teaching people...and I love the elegance of the "old fashioned" ways and am sad that so many in my generation have forgotten the seemingly seamless ladylike manner.  Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!  In the meantime....

Tablesettings!  (These are not my diagrams...I found them via Google images)

First, the informal table setting.  Please note that if you don't need all these elements on your table, just leave them off.  No rearranging is necessary; you simply don't use the pieces you don't need!  Now, I'm not going to get in the weeds about exactly how many inches from the edge of the table your plate should be, or the angle of the silverware if you decide to place it on the edge of the plate rather than alongside.  This is a guide.  And it's meant as friendly guidance not a snobby dictate!  However, some of the key points to take away:
  • Forks go on the left; spoons and knives on the right.
  • Silverware should be arranged so that the pieces used first should be on the outside.  In other words, salad for and soup spoon on the outside, dinner fork and knife on the inside.  The teaspoon always resides outside the dinner knife.
  • Napkins go either centered on the plate, under the forks, or to the left of the forks.
  • Glasses go above and to the right of the plate, on an angle, water glass on the inside and wine glass on the outside.

Now the formal place setting.  I have never had this many pieces in one place setting at a time.  And I entertain.  A lot.  Usually, I have something in between the two diagrams I've shown here.  As I said above, use the elements you need, depending on the occasion or meal, and leave out the rest.  All the rules are the same.  The bullets for the informal setting apply here too!  A few things to point out:
  • Salad forks and dessert forks are the same exact thing.  Same deal with teaspoons and dessert spoons.  And salad plates and dessert plates.  For this reason, when investing in formal china, many people consider purchasing doubles of these pieces if they frequently host formal multi-course meals.
  • A service plate, also called a charger, is simply a resting place for the dinner plate.  It isn't meant to eat off!
  • Bread plates and butter knives aren't necessary.  However, if you choose to omit the bread plate, you should have one butter knife to pass with the butter dish.  A dinner knife should never be used to retrieve butter.  Additionally, if a butter dish and knife are passed, guests should take a pat of butter using the butter knife, and place the butter on the side of their plate, then use their dinner knife to spread the butter.  A "community" butter knife should not be used as a spreader.  This is to prevent food and crumbs from getting all over the butter, which is pretty gross if you ask me.
  • If you're not serving a bonafide salad course (on its own plate, before the main menu), guests can use the dinner fork and put salad on the dinner plate.  If this is the case, you should omit the salad fork and either leave it off the table until dessert or place it above the plate, as in the diagram, so guests don't get confused.
  • Dessert plates are generally left off the table, along with the cup and saucer, until dessert is served.
  • While there is a technical difference between white and red wine glasses, it's perfectly fine to use an "all-purpose" version for any varietal.
I hope these diagrams have been helpful!  And I hope you don't think I'm a snob!  It's simply that I grew up amongst the military, with lots of formal entertaining and high-ranking dinner guests.  I was exposed  to the "old ways" at an early age and would love to preserve the timeless art of entertaining and etiquette!

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