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The Beginner’s Guide to Dressing A Dinner Table

The Beginner’s Guide to Dressing A Dinner Table

How to fancy up your table without the fuss

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The arrival of the summer season has us all itching to dust off our entertaining skills. But we could all use a refresher course on how it’s done.

From the proper arrangement of tableware to achieving a beautiful aesthetic, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of table etiquette. Soon enough, you’ll be the host with the most. 

1. Find inspiration.

The first piece of any table-setting puzzle is to figure out the overall aesthetic. This means finding inspiration in something, be it a color, an in-season flower, or a porcelain pattern. By building the table around this one piece, you’ll simplify the process for yourself and ensure a streamlined style. 

2. Dress up the table in its party clothes.

Once you’ve picked an element to build your table around, choose complementary colors for the linens, flowers, candles, place cards, etc. A sophisticated table will also peek visual interest through the incorporation of varying textures, patterns, and heights. 

For the centerpiece, you can of course do a traditional flower arrangement and tea lights, or think outside of the box by cascading a series of smaller arrangements in small vases or water glasses down the center of the table. Surround them with candles of varying heights to add a romantic feel to the table. See how we did it for our table below:

How to Set a Formal Table - Centerpiece

How to Set a Formal Table - Centerpiece

  • 00:31 min.

3. Add porcelain.

Next, of course, is dinnerware. Depending on the size and scope of the menu, you’ll use a combination of various plates and bowls for serving. 

At a formal table, you’ll usually rest each plated course atop a charger, which remains on the table from the first course until the main course is cleared. To the left of the charger rests the bread plate. Take a look at the video below to see in more detail how the porcelain is arranged throughout dinner: 

How to Set a Formal Table - Porcelain

How to Set a Formal Table - Porcelain

  • 00:53 min.

4. Pull out the silverware.

The arrangement and order of use for silverware is often confusing, especially when eating a multi-course dinner. The rule of thumb? Start from the outside in.

The first course will require the outer-most utensils on either side of the plate. When guests have finished eating a course, its corresponding silverware should be cleared along with the plates.  When the next course is served, you’ll again want to start eating with the outer pair of cutlery. 

Dessert utensils rest above the plate and should be moved to either side of the serving dish before the dessert course.  Check out the video below for a detailed guide to all-things silverware!

How to Set a Formal Table - Cutlery

How to Set a Formal Table - Cutlery

  • 00:34 min.

5. Don’t forget the glasses.

There’s no good dinner party without good drinks! And the arrangement of stemware is pretty straightforward. Of course, the number of glasses you’ll have on the table depends on the number of courses and which type of wine you’re serving. But, in general, you’ll abide by the following rules:

Simply rest the water glass above the dinner knife on the right side of the plate. The red wine glass is placed to its right, slightly below, so that the glasses ultimately form a diagonal line down the table from left to right. Next comes the white wine glass, then, if included, a Champagne flute. See the video below for a full demonstration:

How to Set a Formal Table - Stemware

How to Set a Formal Table - Stemware

  • 00:47 min.

6. Choose a napkin look.

There are thousands of ways to fold and display linen napkins. We’ve picked three we think are versatile and well-suited to a variety of tables.

The first style is also the easiest: Simply pass the napkin through a beautiful napkin ring. The ring will speak for itself and acts as another design element on your table.

The second is simple, sleek, and perfect for a modern or minimalist table. And the technique for executing it is the very definition of unfussy! 

The last look is a bit more complicated but still very easy to achieve with a little practice. The elegant pyramid shape will have your friends thinking you are a restaurant industry professional!

Take a look at the video to see them all in action:

How to Set a Formal Table - Napkins

How to Set a Formal Table - Napkins

  • 00:54 min.

Published on June 4, 2017

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