Room by Room
The Art of Setting a Table
It never fails: You've got guests coming over, and setting the table is the last thing on your mind. An hour before party time, you find yourself in the dining room, staring in panic at a bare table, a fistful of flatware and absolutely zero idea which fork goes where.
Don't fret. Keep a few tried-and-true guidelines in your back pocket, and you'll be able to set a stunning table in a snap.
Step 1. Formal or casual? It makes all the difference.
All your table-decorating tactics are driven off one basic distinction: Is your party formal or casual? Setting for formal gatherings usually requires linens, your special-occasion dishes and much more flatware. On the other hand, setting for casual get-togethers is the opposite end of the spectrum: placemats, everyday dinnerware and only the flatware basics.
Step 2. Make sure everything's clean.
As a guest, there's nothing worse than discovering dust in your water glass. So, make sure your glasses, dishes and flatware are clean before they go on the table. Usually, there will just be a little dust to bust. Take a clean dish towel and wipe the culprit from your glasses and plates.
Good to Know!
When washing dinnerware, use cold water to initially remove starches and dairy products like eggs, milk, flour and oats. These food items get gummier in hot water. A few minutes of soaking in cold water is all you need. Finish in soapy, hot water.
Step 3. The flatware fiasco.
Still wondering which fork goes where? Here's a tip: Forks are always on the left. In fact, your flatware is always arranged for a right-handed person. Unfair, but true. Forks on the left; knives and spoons on the right. Arrange your silverware in the order it will be used; remember, your guests work from the outside in, so the first things used should be the farthest things from the plate. The sharp edges of the knives point toward the plate.
(And if you still can't remember what goes right and left, try this: The word "right" has five letters, as do the words "spoon" and "knife." The word "fork" has four letters - just like the word "left.")
One final tip on flatware: Don't put out any utensils your guests won't be using. You don't want your dinner companions wondering why they've got two extra spoons and a fork left over after the meal's finished.
Step 4. Grab those glasses.
Just when you think you've got the silverware settled, you're facing another question: where do the wine glasses and water glasses go? On the same side? On opposite sides?
Again, think right-handed. Your water and wine glasses always go on the right side of the place setting. Place the larger water glass first, directly above the knife and spoon. The wine glass comes next, to the lower right of the water glass. The coffee cup and saucer go even lower, beneath the wine glass and to the right of the spoon.
Step 5. Go left with the leftovers.
What are you left with? The salad plate, probably. And a bread plate if you're throwing a formal soirée. You've already taken care of the right side of the place setting, which means the leftovers go on the left side. Your bread plate goes directly above the forks, with the salad plate lower, and to the left. This arrangement should mirror the water glass set-up on the right.
Step 6. The centerpiece.
No table looks finished without some sort of centerpiece. This can be as elegant or as informal as your dinner party, but always follow one guideline: Your guests should be able to easily see each other above the centerpiece. Keep those flowers or candles to a manageable height so your guests won't strain their necks attempting conversation.
Step 7. Remember the extras.
Keep a mental checklist (or, even better, write it down!) of the things you find yourself forgetting when you're setting the table. (You don't want to be jumping up seven times during dinner to grab salt and pepper shakers, the butter dish and those other pesky afterthoughts.)
Here's a checklist to get you started. (And remember to register for these items, too! Your guests will be pleased to buy you a one-of-a-kind remembrance for your big day.)
- Water pitcher
- Serving bowls & spoons
- Salt & pepper shakers
- Butter dish
- Gravy boat
After dinner, remember to serve your guests that welcome (and expected) cup of coffee. To make sure you end your meal with the same entertaining savvy you began with, add these coffee necessities to your table.
- Cups & saucers
- Stirring spoons
- Two carafes: one for decaf, one for regular
- Sugar & creamer set
And, of course, a top-notch coffee maker doesn't hurt, either. Add one to your registry to help end your get-togethers with cups of perfectly brewed coffee!
Good to Know!
When entertaining buffet-style, create a separate bar area for drinks that won't disrupt the flow of buffet traffic. A casual party where guests serve themselves calls for a large tub filled with ice and beverages. Tie a bottle opener to the tub's handle, and make a place for caps and empties.
Focus on Flatware
"Flatware" - a term often used interchangeably with
silverware - refers to the knives, forks, spoons and serving utensils that you use to eat and serve.
Spotless Tip: Letting knives, forks and spoons sit in foods that are very salty or very high in acid (vinegar, citrus fruits and pickles) can leave unsightly marks. Keep stainless away from "silver polish" too; these products are too harsh and will dull stainless steel's natural luster.
A flatware place setting consists of five pieces: dinner knife, dinner fork, teaspoon, dessert fork and soup spoon. Plan to register for 8-12 flatware place settings, the same number as your dinnerware.
Here are a few facts that will help you get the right flatware set for your lifestyle.
Most quality stainless steel is actually a metallic blend. You may notice a designation that says "18/8" or "18/10" on the package. That means the pieces have a steel base with 18% chrome for strength, and 8 or 10% nickel for shine. It's a mark of quality - your assurance that this flatware will last through years of daily use.
Consider registering for additional flatware: tall drink spoons for iced tea, butter knives, a gravy ladle and any other serving pieces particularly well-suited to your lifestyle.
Most stainless steel is dishwasher safe and rustproof; some manufacturers recommend you use non-bleach detergents, because chlorine bleach can dull that stainless shine. Abrasive scouring pads might also be too harsh.
Style Tip: Want a new, stylish way to display your flatware at a buffet? Try wrapping each set of knife, fork and spoon in a napkin, then tie it with a festive bow. Not only does it make an especially attractive presentation, but guests have an easier time helping themselves.
A Touch of Glass
Glassware Tips: "Stemware" is the term used for
wine glasses, champagne goblets, brandy snifters or any glass that has a stem. Stemware is designed to be held by the stem, so your hand won't affect the temperature of wine, champagne or other spirits.
"Barware" refers to any kind of glass without a stem, the kind used mostly for everyday cocktails and beverages. Juice glasses, water tumblers, beer mugs - all these fit the "barware" label.
To prevent chipping, store your glasses on a cabinet shelf lined in paper. Stand them upright so odors and moisture won't get trapped inside. Most glassware is dishwasher safe - to prevent breakage, just make sure glasses aren't touching each other when they're going through the wash cycle.
- 13* water tumblers/all-purpose glasses (8-oz. size)
- 13 juice glasses (5-oz.)
- 13 red wine glasses
- 13 white wine glasses
*Why 13? So you always have an extra if one accidentally breaks!
For entertaining, consider these items:
- Beverage set(s)
- Beer mugs
- Champagne flutes
- Margarita glasses
- Rocks glasses
- Ice bucket & tongs