Today we close off our DINNER PARTY ETIQUETTE series with the spotlight on table settings. Leisurely dinner parties have fast become a thing of the past. With so much calling for our attention, fast food jaunts have reached endemic proportions. So when you do reserve time for a celebration with delicious home-cooked meals, be mindful of the etiquette that goes with the occasion. This tells your guests that you are really invested in the event. And they can soak in the ambience of old-world charm while they relax and unwind.
Dinner Party Etiquette: The Table Setting
I have already walked you through the details around selecting a delicious menu, sending out the invites, figuring out the seating arrangement and choosing an impressive décor for your dinner party. Today I would like to go ahead and focus on your table setting which includes the flatware, stemware and silverware. This might be a touch fussy, but the result more than makes up for the elaborateness of the exercise.
Flatware, Stemware and Silverware
The tablecloth, the napkins and the centrepie
The tablecloth, the napkins and the centrepieces leave a visual impact. And I have always considered them a part of the aesthetic value of the evening. The flatware and the stemware placement, however, is more than catering to the ‘setting’ of the table. It is a logical arrangement. When you have savvy diners who understand the ground rules, it helps put them at ease by ensuring expected items are at the right place.
Dinner party etiquette wasn’t invented to be tedious. It was enforced to be convenient.
A tradition hailing from the middle ages, a service plate or charger serves as a base for your actual flatware. It is a concession to the presentation and has its own etiquettes around use. The shape of the charger and its pattern must reflect that of your tableware. If you have opted to use neo-modern designs, ensure that the service plate complies with the basic structure and material. Always have the service plate removed before dessert comes through and line up the handles of the cutlery with the bottom edge of the charger.
The Bread Plate:
The bread plate is accompanied by the butter knife or spatula. It should be in line with the dessert cutlery and directly above the set of forks. The butter knife is generally laid diametrically across.
The Dessert Accoutrements:
You may choose to serve either alone dessert spoon or pair it up with a fork. The tines of the fork should face outwards and point to the right. The bowl of the spoon should be concave and be facing to the left. The dessert accoutrements find a place of pride directly above the charger and flatware duo.
The Hot Beverage Set:
You may choose to serve the coffee right at the table instead of retiring to the den. The cup and saucer go to the right of the knives and is just below the champagne flute. If there isn’t sufficient space, you can place it above the dinner fork.
Guests should always refrain from seasoning a dish before tasting it. This shows a mark of respect for the host and the food that has been prepared. And you as the hostess must make it easy for them to reach the salt and the pepper. Place the pair above the bread plate.
Since most formal events have no more than 4 to 5 courses, you may expect to accommodate up to 4 glasses and flutes for each dinner setting. Start with the water glass. It should be stationed directly above the knives. Remember to leave enough space for the Red Wine glass and the champagne flute though. To the right of the water, glass goes the White Wine glass. Ideally, it should be right above the Fish knife. But if that clutters the area, you have some wriggle room since this isn’t an absolute mandate. Right below the White Wineglass, you may place the Champagne flute and beside it, to the left, the wide-bottomed Red Wine glass to hold the vintage and swirl the flavours. This particular stemware should crown the meat knife.
Great! We are down to the essential part of your dinner table setting. Keep in mind that the forks and knives are not placed randomly. Everything is driven by reason. Your guests will start to use the cutlery from the outer edge and thus to the farthest right you need to place the soup spoon with the deep bowl concave. This is the only piece of cutlery after the butter knife that is solitary. Moving inwards, put the fish knife and fork to the right and the left respectively. The remaining two pairs correspond to the silverware for the salad and the meat where the former precedes the latter in service.
If you feel that this is way too much to remember, you can always refer to the table setting infographic above. If you use a little ‘referencing’ for the execution, no one will fault you!
Placemats, Salad Bites and Everything Else in-between:
I have a lot more to share, but I can’t be too verbose. So I have chosen my top miscellaneous tips to add an uber-professional touch to the proceedings.
- Placemats aren’t indispensable. If they do not go with the décor, by all means, drop them.
- The cutlery should match. There is nothing more embarrassing than etchings and designs that do not go together. Unless it is the same colour palette with similar lines – then, by all means, go ahead.
- Once a course is finished, the cutlery shouldn’t touch the table again. Ensure that your servers are careful of maintaining this etiquette as it also means fewer stains and splotches for you to tend to afterwards.
- Speaking of stains, keep handy extra towels and a bottle of soda to take emergency action and prevent food from seeping too deeply into upholstery or the carpet.
- Don’t forget the ashtrays! Even if your home is a no-smoking zone, be sure to accommodate the smokers outside away from the non-smokers. Dinner etiquette will prevent your guests from lighting up indoors if that is the case, but you should be prepared to allocate an area to those who do smoke.
- Warm plates are reminiscent of forgotten luxury. Flatware warmers are quite affordable, and if you do entertain frequently, I absolutely advise investing in one.
- Salads serve as palate cleansers allowing your guests to savour the protein by suppressing the often salty flavours of the seafood. So do pay attention to your greens and cut them up into tiny bite-sized pieces to facilitate the journey to your guests’ gullet. You may also serve a bowl of sorbet to do the trick.
- The bread plate must stay on after the soup. It exits with the salad.
- If you are doing an entrée before the soup, you do need to have appropriate cutlery placed in the right order. Entrees shine in ornate silver dishes that make your dinner party nothing short of royal.
- Last but not least, when you serve the dessert, the water glass should be the only stemware left on the table. As each course ends, the cutlery and stemware corresponding to it need to be removed.
So…do you feel exhilarated? Can you envision the splendour of your impeccable table and your decadent dinner party? Great! If you have any questions regarding dinner party etiquette, I am always here for you. Stay fabulous!
To your inimitable style!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on 16 July 2018 and has since been updated.
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