Because we live in such casual times, it is not often that one gets to have a formal occasion in their home. When such an occasion does arise, the hosts are often left wondering, “What for goes where?”, and “How in the world do I set the table?”
Tradition: Traditionally, a formal table is set in layers with multiple forks, knives, spoons and a temporary service plate to hold the place for the courses that will follow. What silverware, glasses and china are to be used will depend on the courses being served. For example, a shrimp fork or lobster hammer need not be on the table if you have not prepared these foods.
Placement of silverware and china should be as follows:
The dinner plate is centered in front of the chair. On the left side of the plate are the forks in the order they need to be used, starting from the fork the farthest distance from the plate. To the left of the forks, is the napkin. Above the forks and napkin, place the bread dish with the butter knife lying across it.
On the right side of the plate is the dinner knife, followed by the fish knife and the soupspoon. Above the plate, place the dessert fork and the butter knife. Above the knives and soupspoon place the water and wine goblets in a diagonal line with the water farthest way.
Although this is the traditional way to set the table, you need not be quite so formal with your own table. Chances are you will not be having quite so many courses, so you will need less silverware, and can relax fork, knife, and spoon placement by putting the forks on the left in order of use and the other items on the right. Silverware and dishes for coffee and dessert can be brought out later.
Presentation: After the party, the most likely thing that will be remembered is the atmosphere you created. Your table presentation is a key aspect of your event’s atmosphere. Infuse your own personality into the table setting. You can create a table centerpiece that exudes your sense of style.
You use to fold your napkins into origami type shapes; you can calligraphy your guest cards, and even set mix-matched china on the table. Whatever your personal style it, let it flow. Regardless of the personal touches you use, be sure to use the very best of what you have. You want your guests to feel they are the most important people to you at that moment.
Presenting your best, no matter what that means, will make them feel special. In addition to presenting your guests with the very best you have to offer, take special care to place each item lovingly and neatly. Do not do a rush job. Make sure you leave yourself proper time to set the table, even if it means setting it a day or two early.
Accessibility: When setting your table, pay special attention to the accessibility of items to your guests. You will want to put out multiples of salt, pepper, butter, bread, and water pitchers so each person can reach them easily.
In addition, when passing main entrees, control any possible chaos by taking control of the situation by passing the dish to your right, and directing your guests to continue passing as they serve themselves. Serve yourself last to be sure all your guests have received a portion of each dish, leave a little extra in the kitchen in case you should run out of something.