How to set the table for casual and formal gatherings

Place settings can be used for casual dining as well as for more formal occasions. Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock photo
Place settings can be used for casual dining as well as for more formal occasions. Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock photo

Hosts have a lot on their plates when planning dinner parties. Choosing the menu is a big responsibility, as is taking steps to ensure guests feel welcome.

One area novice hosts may overlook is how to set a proper table. Eating on the go or quickly between commitments means individuals often grab meals wherever they can, and that rarely leads them to the dining room table. But a properly set table can impress guests and improve the ambiance at a dinner party.

Begin by choosing a matching set of dinnerware. You will need to invest in extra dinnerware if you do not have enough items to accommodate all your guests. If dishes and utensils have seen better days, you may want to upgrade to a new set.

Wash any plates and glasses that have not been used in a while before setting the table. A quick rinse through the dishwasher can freshen them up and remove any accumulated dust.

Select a table linen that fits with your decor or theme. It will be the base for your table setting. The dinner plate should be front and center for each guest. Place a napkin directly on the center of the dinner plate or off to the left side.

Utensils will flank the plate in order of use. The experts at Emily Post Etiquette suggest using the word “FORKS” to remind yourself which order to place the utensils. Begin on the left side of the plate. “F” is for forks,  “O” represents the plate itself, “K” is for knives, and “S” is for spoons. The “R” is not used, but the word serves as a pneumonic device nonetheless.

In a basic table setting, there may only be one fork, knife and spoon. In more formal settings, additional utensils are provided for multiple courses. The additional utensils are placed in order of use. Therefore, a salad fork would be on the end and the dinner fork closer to the plate. All knives should be facing in toward the dinner plate.

Beverage glasses are placed above the dish and utensils to the right side of it. Bread-and-butter dishes and/or small salad plates appear to the left.

Many hosts do present dessert well after the main course, so you will not need to have a dessert plate, beverage cup and saucer or dessert utensils on the table initially. They can be brought in later on.

Buy a centerpiece to complete the table. Keep in mind the height and size of the arrangement so that it does not impede guests’ views or take up so much space that diners feel cramped. Proper table setting can make any meal feel more special.

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