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 vs. 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.

This seems to be a good quick reference for table-setting, except I believe the butter knife should be horizontal, blade facing inwards, handle pointing to the right.

Service Skill: Making the Bed

General Notes:

  • Bed linens and such that are properly sized, fit the color scheme, and in good condition go a long way. 
  • Remember to change/wash the linens regularly (once a week is a popular guideline); watch the care instructions.  
    • Having at least two sets of bed linens can save some headaches.
  • Don’t forget appropriately keeping the bed frame and whatnot neat too.  This might mean dusting, or handling upholstery, or something else.
  • Remember mattress care—rotating, cleaning, etc.
  • Set the tasks mentioned on a repeating schedule.
  • Maybe try a light linen spray once in a while—but remember to check on allergies and sensitivities first.
  • I don’t mention certain pieces below, because I decided to stick to what I do—but if you have a bed skirt, mattress pad, etc., factor them in appropriately.
  • Make sure the piece you’re handling is facing the way it’s supposed to, both in vertical/horizontal orientation and where the patterned side is; a patterned flat sheet, for instance, may need to be put on the bed face down to have the pattern facing up when folded back.
  • Customize it!  Make sure you adhere to your M-type’s preferences.

Making the Bed (the Daily Stuff)

  • If the mattress has shifted at all, for those tossers and turners, make sure it’s lined up/back where it’s supposed to be.
  • Fitted sheet: evenly place on the mattress; smooth out.
  • Flat sheet: make hospital corners.
    • There are many great resources on how to make hospital corners online.  A quick Google search should get you to guides for a variety of learning types if you haven’t done it before.
  • Main blanket: evenly lay on top; smooth out.
  • Fold down the flat sheet and the blanket so the fold lays not quite below where the pillows will be.  Neatly tuck the hem of the flat sheet under the hem of the comforter.  (This is really a preference point.)
  • Place any extra blankets, whether another layer altogether, or folded across the foot of the bed, or what have you.
  • If preferred, neatly tuck in the blankets under the mattress.
  • Put pillowcases on pillows if need be (tuck excess pillowcase fabric, if any, under the pillow); arrange pillows practically and attractively; try slightly propped up on the headboard.
  • Handle any other “extras”.  (As an example, I place my leash neatly on my pillow for bedtime.)

Service Skill: Creating a Service Reference Book

Largely just some thoughts on things that could go into a service reference book, adapted to the user’s wants/needs. Written in M/s language for an s-type audience.

Preferences

  • Notes on any and all of your M-type’s dietary restrictions, sensitivities, and allergies. Note things that they simply dislike, whether they’re entire cuisines, an ingredient, a recipe, a spice level, or a cooking method.
  • Now the flip side: notes on their favorite foods and drinks. What are those favorites? Is there anything they need/want to eat more of than normal (like iron for the anemia-prone)? What are their preferences for things like seasoning, cooking methods, or presentation? (You can keep recipes in your service reference book too, and note these things right in them. Consider sorting by meal—breakfast, lunch, etc.) Maybe they like eggs best over medium. Maybe only heaven can help you if their coffee is not available through a straw.
  • Don’t forget notes on restaurants/their menu items if you don’t always eat at home. Favorites, dislikes.
  • Their likes and dislikes for products in categories like cleaning and hygiene. Cleaning chemicals, soaps, detergents, hair products, towels, razors, dental products.

Guides

  • Guide to the bed. A “making the bed” checklist. A reference of your M-type’s favorite blankets, sheets, and pillows. Mattress maintenance schedule. Linen washing schedule. Seasonal change notes. How many pillows and blankets, and where do they go. A “how do hospital corners work” guide for those bleary-eyed mornings.
  • Table setting guide. Have a good general reference, plus anything specific to your home.
  • Guide on how to use any relevant electronics/appliances, including notes on the settings to use. Consider things like kitchen gadgets, and the all-important coffee maker.
  • Guide for where items go if you are at all likely to forget. Pots, pans, baking sheets, plates, bowls, cups. Socks, shirts, pants. Whatever it is.
  • Laundry guide—how to handle delicates, how clothes get sorted to be washed, detergent preferences (plus dryer sheets and/or fabric softener), settings to be used on any machines.
  • Manicure/pedicure guide if you give those.

Information

  • Passwords and usernames that you might need. Remember the WiFi!
  • Quick-access emergency health information about both you and your M-type and available to both of you.
  • Contact information for important people in your lives.
  • Pet information if you have pets. What they eat, their health information, contact information for pet-related services (vet, groomer, pet sitter).
  • Car information if relevant. Model and year. Contact information for car-related services.
  • Notes and contact information on any other services you use regularly (think trash, recycling, mail).
  • A copy of your relationship’s contract if you have one, any other “paperwork” like a rules list.

Lists

  • Gift idea list for people you or your M-type gift to. Include links where applicable. Sort by recipient or occasion.
  • Household inventory. Consider including: item (brand, flavor, size), current stock, what stock level to buy at, what number to buy, where to buy, who buys, photo.
  • Master shopping list (as in a list of everything you buy on the regular, as opposed to the M-type status). Sort this and your temporary shopping lists by the order you go through the store in for more efficiency.
  • Meal plan, menu, or similar system that you use.
  • Master packing list (again, a list of everything you pack on the regular). Consider a base packing list for any recurring trips.

Planning

  • Calendar. Probably best to be shared with your M-type in some way.
  • Task lists. Your current one(s), any ones that repeat on a schedule.
  • Task lists associated with recurring events, such as overnight company.
  • List of important people’s also-important dates, like birthdays and anniversaries, for people relevant to both you and your M-type.

Final Note: Remember to have backups of things and keep it all updated!

Service Skill: Hosting at Home

Some of my advice for hosting a group at home. These are things you can do the day-of (some could be done a bit more in advance); therefore, some early planning, including invites, isn’t addressed.

Preparing Yourself (and Others)

  • Dress appropriately for the occasion—if you have a specific outfit in mind, you might want to change closer to the last minute to avoid any mishaps, especially if you’re doing messy prep work the day of.
  • Take care of yourself. While it’s easy to let this slip, try to eat something and drink water, if for nothing else, to keep efficiency up.
  • Try to put away your electronics and focus on the event when the time comes.  You might want to find a way to monitor certain notifications, though, if people might be reaching out to you with last minute questions.  If you have digital reference material, like recipes, that you might need: print it!
  • Remember to check on any special needs/wants of guests.  Polls are valuable.
  • Make sure that any pets’ needs are handled, and keep in mind what your plan is for them during the event, if they’re going to be in a specific area or have free reign, etc. (and remember to warn guests in case of allergies).

Some General Prep

  • Doors. Have the right ones closed, open, locked, unlocked, etc. If you expect to direct guests to a certain room, having the door generally open might help (like bathrooms).
  • Lighting. Have guest areas lit as desired, and don’t forget pathways between them. Consider turning off the lights in areas guests don’t really need access to, to help highlight where things are going on.
  • Do a quick thermostat check a bit before guests arrive, and set it to something comfortable. Consider the activities going on, the weather, etc.
  • If there’s going to be music, get that set up—volume, playlist, etc.
  • Label things if you think it will help—where certain supplies are, including food and drink, maybe rooms if people will spread out.
  • If you have a guest manual or something of the sort, make sure it’s updated. At the least, have any house rules available, and the WiFi information if you’re handing it out.
  • Keep an eye on certain supply levels close to the event—remember soap at the sinks, toilet paper, hand towels/paper towels, etc.
  • Set up for any specific activities.

Clean, Clean, Clean

  • Do the general tidying. Control clutter, straighten things up, especially picking up anything on the floor. Closing cabinets, drawers, and closet doors can instantly give a room a neater look.
  • Clean floors and surfaces as needed; also check on windows and mirrors.
  • Don’t forget any needed toilet cleaning.
  • Run any couch pillows through the dryer for a quick fluff if you can.
  • Get any dishes clean and put away; take out the trash (all of the bins if there are multiple, like little ones in the bathrooms), and don’t forget to put liners back in bins that have them.
  • Make the beds if needed.
  • Do any outdoor cleanup needed.

Food and More

  • Don’t make something for the first time at/for an event. Pick recipes you have confidence in, and the right timing for. Consider if the food handles sitting out well if that will be an issue—if reheating methods are available, make that clear.
  • Remember to set out anything guests might particularly want in the way of condiments, seasonings, etc.
  • Set the table if that’s relevant.
  • Try to at least have snacks, and if you’re hosting during a regular mealtime, serve something resembling that meal. Have snacks around even if you’re serving an entree, for the guest who shows up hungry before food is even close to ready, or the guest who gets hungry after the meal digests. Variety is always nice, and keeping snacks single-serve in some way can be helpful.
  • Labeling things can help people out, and you might want to mark common allergens at a bigger event, especially if that allergen’s presence isn’t obvious.
  • Drinks! Variety is your friend again. Ice is also your friend. Water and soda are always good. Consider coffee and tea depending on the time as well.
  • Keep cups, plates, bowls, silverware, and napkins accessible. Consider offering chilled glasses by keeping some in the freezer.