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The Dos and Don’ts of Setting a Table

Growing up in a big Italian family, the dinner table was the hearth of the home. It was where everyone gathered during get-togethers or parties, whether or not there was a formal meal set down. As an adult I love having my friends and loved ones over to feed them but so far all my meals have been spread across a small apartment with plates on laps. However I spent enough time setting tables between stirring my grandmother’s gravy (tomato sauce!), reading my mother’s hip-high pile of Martha Stewart Living magazines, and the studying the copy of Emily Post that I bought at a yard sale when I was 12 to consider myself an expert in-the-making in the art of table setting.

Since I don’t have a big rustic table of my own, I have been living vicariously through my newly betrothed friends and have been dishing out dinner party advice. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts I have put together from years of research.

DO mix and match different styles of plates – a great way to hide the fact that you might not have enough of one style for everyone at the table!

DO give everyone at the table all the plates and utensils they will need for the entire meal… unless your butler is there to change each place-setting between courses. This means soup spoons, salad forks, any utensil they may need for dessert.

DON’T put out dessert plates until the dessert course. It’s everyone’s favorite part anyway so save all the surprises for later.

DO learn the basics of place-settings so you can bend and break the rules for your own meals and style.

Some basics: Utensils are set from in the order they will be used from the outside in. This means the fork to the far left is your salad fork; the one inside is your dinner fork. The spoon to the right of the knife is for soup, a course that comes before dinner. Forks on the left, knife on the right as it’s proper etiquette to hold food down with the fork on your left hand as cut with the knife in your right, then switch the fork when you are ready to eat.

DON’T choose a centerpiece with an overpowering aroma. Stay away from scented candles and very fragrant flowers. You don’t want the décor to upstage your amazing meal.

DO make sure that centerpieces allow guests to see across the table to keep the conversation flowing. Nothing is worse than having to talk to someone’s forehead over a ridiculously large flower arrangement.

DO get funky with your napkins. Fold them, roll them, or use a pretty ring. Napkins can really tie a whole table together.

DO provide your guests with a water glass and another for the alcohol being served with dinner. If you are offering white and red wine, choose a versatile glass.

DON’T play music that will stand out. Like your centerpieces, the music should be noticed but not enough to offend or distract. Try something without lyrics – Pandora has a lot of instrumental options that don’t sound like elevator music.

Written by Gaby D

Gaby is the Community Outreach Coordinator. She knits, reads, collects vinyl, yogas, and is the lead singer of a Brooklyn-based rock band. She is half-part Martha Stewart and half-part Fran Drescher. If she's not sleeping, she's probably Tweeting. Her favorite uncommon good is anything made by Dana Brandwein Oates or Emilie Shapiro.

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