Arrange a Place Setting for a Formal Dinner

Thursday, November 20, 2008

n today's hectic world of fast-food restaurants and TV dinners, it's easy to forget how to properly set the table for a formal dinner. While it may not be a skill you need often, occasions do still arise for which formal place settings are an absolute must.

Center the soup bowl on top of a dinner plate.
Place the forks directly to the left of the plate. The fork for the earliest course (usually salad) should be furthest from the plate, and the next fork in should be for the next course. The dessert fork should be placed above the dinner plate perpendicular to the other cutlery with the handle pointing towards the prongs of the other forks
Place the dinner knife directly to the right of the plate, with sharp edge facing the plate. If you will use a fish knife, place that to the right of the dinner knife.
Place the spoon(s) to the right of the dinner knife or fish knife. If you will be using a dessert spoon, place that above the dessert fork the opposite way round. Place the soup spoon furthest out from the plate.
Locate the bread plate slightly above and to the left of the dinner plate, with the butter knife resting across the plate.
Place the water glass slightly above and to the right of the dinner plate, directly above the dinner knife.
Place wine glasses (one for white, and one for red) to the right and just below the water glass. Cluster the glasses closely together. You may also arrange the three glasses in a triangle with the water glass closest to the dinner plate or the closest glass to the guest.
Put the champagne glass, if one is to be used, slightly above and to the right of the wine glasses.
Place the coffee cup either above and to the right of the dinner plate with the glasses, or slightly below and to the left of the bread plate. (See tips).
Place the napkin either folded on top of the dinner plate (or across the rim of the soup bowl), to the left of the forks, or in the water glass.
Centerpieces should be low, so that they don't obstruct guest's views of each other or their conversations.

You may also place the dessert fork and / or spoon directly above the dinner plate, running in a horizontal direction (that is, not pointing toward the guest). Arrange the fork facing right and the spoon facing left.
Use only the utensils you will need.
In all but the most formal settings, don't be afraid to mix and match if you don't have enough matching tableware. Mixing and matching has become increasingly popular.
Don't crowd your guests. If you need more room at each setting, don't bring out the coffee cup and dessert spoon / knife until after the main course, when you have cleared away the dishes.
There are a variety of different ways to set the table, and as society becomes more informal, there's more room for creativity. If you want to check out some alternatives, do a search on the internet or visit your local library for a book on etiquette.
When eating a meal at a formal place setting, the utensils are used from the outside in. That is to say, the salad fork will be outside the dinner fork, which will be outside the dessert fork and so on. If you're not sure which fork to use, pause and take a sip of water while you notice what everyone else picks up.
The most important thing to keep in mind when setting a table is to make sure your guests will be comfortable. With the increase in more casual dining, it's fun to pull out all the stops and set a formal table. Don't, however, lose sight of your guests' comfort and your own fun (that's often why we entertain). If you don't have all the trappings of a formal table, you can rent items or have some fun and improvise. Some of the best looking tables are the result of improvisation and using unexpected items.

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