Service Skill: Setting the Table

Who knew, really, how much can go into setting a table?  A little scatterbrained from handling other preparations for company, like the cooking and ensuring the right drinks were chilling in the fridge and right quantity of glasses were chilling in the freezer, I couldn’t seem to print the first few names right-side-up on both sides of their place-cards on the first go—though I got there eventually.  I ended up scrutinizing the table to make sure I hadn’t spaced anything—napkins well-laundered and white, knife blades facing plates, Mistress’ place set to her preference with the right and left sides switched, my grandma’s place set to her preference with a salad fork instead of a dinner fork.  Then I got reminded one guest was left-handed, and as the only leftie and with such a place available, I reassigned his place to where there was no one to his left.  Made sure I noted that for next time.

Proper table setting has caught my interest, mostly in the little details I never really noticed before, the differences between styles, the “whys” of some of it.  I have yet to find a good opportunity for a real formal dinner, but, as above, I try to work what I can into more casual events.  The place cards were more than usual, though the rest is everyday.

So I’m certainly not an expert, but here are some quick overarching table-setting tips and guidelines I’ve run across.

  1. Space things evenly and line them up (bottoms of the vertical flatware all along the same line, for instance).
  2. All knife blades face towards the plate.
  3. Be consistent in your style.  There are different types of settings (like North American versus European); stick to one.
  4. Use as few disposables as possible to increase class.  Cloth napkins, real dishes.  Have them match (in general; there might be times other options are appropriate), and make sure they’re spotless.
  5. Big centerpieces might look pretty in isolation; on the table, they mean you can’t see the person across from you.  Think smaller, or get creative on placement.
  6. Certain types of plates, bowls, and glassware can be chilled for serving things cold or heated for serving things warm.  Adds a touch of luxury.
  7. Check what’s in your butler’s book for any special considerations for those who will be dining.

There are many good visual references for place setting online.

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