Ah, the formal dinner table.
A daunting subject for some. Which glass is for what? How do you lay out the cutlery? Where does the napkin go? For the less experienced in hosting dinner parties, setting the table for Christmas (or any other seasonal gathering that requires a formal place setting) can be a confusing task. Especially now in the generation of TV dinners.
How to Lay Out Cutlery on the Dinner Table
A formal dinner table generally requires more cutlery than one would expect at a casual dinner. With multiple courses to come, the table needs to be prepared for each course to arrive.
Typically, when using cutlery at the table, you start from the outside and work your way in. Starters usually consist of a light meal, often salad or a soup, so a salad fork and a soup spoon should be placed on the outer sides of the place setting.
As each course has finished, the used cutlery (and salad plate from the starter course) should be removed, eventually leaving you with the cutlery positioned closest to the main dinner service plate. And finally the dessert cutlery above the dinner plate.
Since you place each cutlery according to the hand in which they will be held, forks always sit on the left hand side and knives and spoons always stay to the right (with the blades of any knives facing the dinner plate). The butter knife tends to be placed on the bread plate itself, and is usually placed top left of the main service plate.
Which glass is for what?
Chances are, you’re not going to have the widest selection of different types of glassware. There are dozens of different types of glasses for different drinks and occasions. But let’s just look at the most common at the dinner table: the champagne flute (for those celebratory occasions), the Chardonnay glass and the standard red and white wine glass. You can actually delve a little deeper into wine glasses for different types of wines. For instance, Burgundy is best with a lipped wine glass, a Pinot Noir should be poured into a wider bowl and a Bordeaux glasses tend to be taller and larger.
If you have two types of wine glasses, just pour the red into the larger of the two and you should be fine. When you pour a glass of red wine, the wine should come up to the widest part of the glass bowl to allow it to breathe. White wine glasses, on the other hand, tend to be a little narrower to keep the wine chilled for longer.
Traditionally, there will always be three glasses to each place setting (the water glass , the red wine glass and the white wine glass), regardless of whether they all get used or not. Following the pattern with the cutlery, the white wine glass will be on the outer side as it tends to be preferred with the starters.
Where to put everything on the dinner table?
With all of that silverware and dinnerware, you might be wondering where to put the Christmas crackers, name place cards and, at the very least, the napkins!
Well, there are several places where you would typically find a napkin on the dinner table. For instance, neatly folded to the left of the forks or, if you’ve been gifted with the creativity of napkin-folding, positioned on the starter plate or bread plate. Napkins can be folded into a whole range of ways – from swans to stars to flowers. The more impressive the folded napkin, the more attention you probably want to draw to it, in which case you’d probably want it front and centre on the starter plate to impress each guest when they sit down at the table. Another formal place to put the napkin is folded into a drinking glass.
Place cards with your guests’ names should be positioned somewhere obvious to your guests – which could be either at the top of their place setting between their glasses and their bread plate or, if the place card is nicely presented or printed, it could go on the starter plate itself as part of the presentational design.
And, of course, once dessert has been served any coffee or hot beverages are served on a saucer placed on the person’s right hand side next to the spoons.
Do I need to use a table cloth?
Table cloths are a great way to really set a formal tone in your dining room. (They’re also great at covering up any unsightly table surfaces.) But sometimes it might feel like a waste of an opportunity to show off your gorgeous dining table.
A modernist dining room that prides itself on its elegant, clean lines and flat colours is likely not to suit having a table cloth – unless your dining table is particularly unattractive. Similarly, if your dining table is a stunning work of art and makes a statement on its own, leave it uncovered! There’s no need to hide that beauty away; let your guests admire it.
Otherwise, why not dress your table up with a cloth? They can soften the appearance of the table, creating a warmer, more intimate setting for small formal dinners. Or make the table look more extravagant, and provide a rich backdrop for the food. And you don’t always have to go with the white table cloth. You might try a subtle pattern or detail that works well with the décor and colour scheme of your dining room or even the theme of the dinner. Or perhaps go with something a little more colour.
The size of the table cloth is also important. You might want to leave a little of the table uncovered so guests can appreciate the finish or a particular feature of the table, but still have the table cloth. In this situation, you would use a table runner that only drapes off two sides of the table, leaving the other two exposed a few inches horizontally or vertically. If you want to go really formal, or just hate your table legs, you might want to consider a floor-length table cloth.
Dinner Table Etiquette
- Never open your mouth while there is food in there – even if someone asks you a question!
- Turn your phone off or keep it silent and hidden away.
- Place your napkin on your lap while seated. If you have leave your seat for whatever reason, never place your napkin back on to the table once it has been on your lap. Instead, drape it over the arm or on the seat of your dining chair.
- Make sure that you sit with good posture, and keep those elbows in and off the table.
- Unless it’s bread, no food should ever touch your fingers.
- Once you have picked up any item of silverware, it shouldn’t touch the table again for the duration of the course. If you need to pause, place the cutlery onto your plate.
- Cut your food one piece at a time, rather than cutting up food in advance which you won’t immediately eat.