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We eat with our eyes first.

So many of the events of our lives, from the formal to the informal, are celebrated by gathering around a table. Whatever the occasion—whether it’s a holiday dinner, Sunday brunch, or a casual lunch with friends—the table is the place where we relax and enjoy each other’s company while savoring a great meal.

The way the table is laid out can add to or take away from the dining experience. Additionally, table settings can enhance the progression of a meal so that everything is easily served.

A formal party or a holiday gathering also calls for a little consistency in setting a table. You don’t have to have a salad fork, especially if you’re not having salad, but knowing where everything goes can improve the look of your place setting.

As you think about setting a table, ask what your guests will be expecting when they arrive. Is this a highbrow affair or a barbecue? Do you really need a dessert spoon? A dinner party with multiple elaborate courses might call for one, but it depends on the dessert you serve. Consider what will make your guests comfortable, what sets the tone for the meal and which utensils are best for eating which course.

The Basics
Setting a table isn’t just about utensils. First think about how much room your guests will have when they sit down to eat. When setting out chairs, space them apart enough so that your guests can move their elbows comfortably. Ask yourself if a guest will have enough room to cut a piece of food without elbowing a tablemate.

You probably won’t need each of these items. Remember that your table setting should be appropriate for the meal, and keeping it simple is the easiest way to make a party go more smoothly for you and your guests.

How to set your table in 5 steps

1. Placemats

If using placemats, place them one inch from the end of the table. While not a required part of a formal dinner table setting, placemats can be a good way to add style to your table.

 

2. Plates/Tableware

Most formal dinner table settings will simply include a dinner or service plate, though others will include an optional  at the center of the service plate. For a formal dinner, the plate for each course is brought directly to the table and laid on top of the service plate.

 

3. Silverware

The silverware you use will depend on the courses being served. If only serving 2-3 courses, the silverware you use when you set a formal table should suffice. If more than 3 courses are served, you’ll need to bring out new silverware with each course after the initial set of silverware has been used. Silverware is placed according to when it’s used, from the outside in.

4. Glasses/Glassware

Depending on how many different wines you serve at your formal dinner party, you’ll need anywhere from 2 to 4 glasses: one for wine, champagne or a dessert wine.

 

5. Napkins and Tablecloth

When setting a formal dinner table, napkins can be placed on the dinner plate, to the left of the silverware, or on your bread plate. They can be left plain or given a fancy fold– your choice!

When putting together your formal dinner table setting, be sure to set your plates up 2″ from the edge of the table, or 1″ from the edge of the placemat.

 

A beautiful table is very enticing and it’s a great way to make your guests feel that you cared about them enough to  make them feel comfortable in your home; but, ultimately it’s about the friendships, and the willingness to open your home and share in an intimate way. Sharing a meal can be as simple as a bowl of chili and as elaborate as a 6 course catered affair, but people will always remember how you made them feel.

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