TIPS ‘N’ TRICKS
Dinner parties with family and friends are a lot of fun. Although it is the scrumptious food everyone looks forward to, the way it is served helps set the tone for the evening. Formal table settings are an art form, and formality of the setting is what creates the impressive display. The care that is taken to set a table makes your dining area look beautiful and creates a welcoming ambience for your guests.
The traditions surrounding placement are old and varied from place to place. Historically, taking the time to set a proper place at the dining table with the correct utensils was just as important as using the proper manners while eating.
The rules of table setting are a blend of traditions that stem from European history. Originally, seating arrangements were decided by the hosts and organized according to comfort, mobility, and ease of conversation. Being seated next to the host was always considered the seat of honor. The way the table was set was not much different from the way we set the table today.
During the Middle Ages, cutlery was not common. Guests brought their own cutlery to dinners. Men would use their daggers to cut food and the women would be served by the men. Forks had not yet arrived from Italy, so much of the food was eaten with fingers. However, with the knives being both weapons and utensils, people were continually puncturing their mouths, leading to the development of table cutlery around the sixteenth century.
During this time, dinner courses were served much like family style dinners we still enjoy today. The food was brought out to the tables in large bowls or on large platters that served two or more guests, and everyone ate at the same time. This was called service à la française meaning service in the French style, and it was the chosen method of place settings for royalty and nobility from the Middle Ages through the Victorian Era.
Between 1750 and 1900 there was a shift that led to even more elaborate table settings and serving etiquette. Service à la française gave way to service à la russe, or service in the Russian style. This style of service involved courses being brought to the table in sequential order by servants who used dishes and utensils specific to the dish being served. This style of serving dinner and table setting is like dining at a restaurant today.
The service à la russe is the tradition that has become the standard to which we consider table setting etiquette today. Place settings became part of the décor and grew into elaborate displays that are still practiced by those who enjoy formal dining today. The formality of the setting is what creates the impressive display. In order to do it correctly, there are rules that need to be followed.
To begin, all lower edges of the utensils should align with the bottom rim of the plate and rest about one inch away from the side of the plate as well as the edge of the table. Each utensil should be handled carefully to avoid any fingerprints. Each setting requires a minimum of 15 inches between settings to maintain comfortable elbow room for each guest.
Butter should be waiting for each guest on individual butter plates, and the water glasses should be filled. The water glass should be placed one inch from the tip of the butter knife. The knives should be placed facing the plate.
Forks are to be placed to the left of the plate with the furthest from the plate being the salad fork. The basic rule is to place utensils from the outside in, according to the order they will be used. Therefore, at more formal meals where the salad is served after the main course, the forks should be ordered accordingly.
The dinner plate is placed on the table as the main course is being served, not when the guests are seated. Large plates are to be laid about one inch from the edge of the table. The salad plate is to be placed to the left of the forks, while smaller plates like the salad and dessert plates are to be placed about two inches from the edge of the table.
The dinner knife is to be placed on the right side of the plate directly one inch away from the plate, and the blade should be facing the plate. However, if the main course requires a steak knife, it can be substituted for the dinner knife.
If you’re having a soup, the soup bowl will go on top of your dinner plate.The soup spoon is to be placed at the far right of the outside knife. A small bread plate should be placed above the forks, but above and to the left of the service plate. The butter spreader is to be laid out on the bread-and-butter plate.
If you’re hosting a sit-down meal, ensure that the centrepieces are low enough and don’t distract the flow of conversation across the table. Place the dinner plate centered in front of the chair. Fold a napkin and lay it to the left of your plate or on top of the plate, if you want.
Planning a dinner is the easy part, but executing your plans can be tricky. Keeping in mind the rules can be helpful, but the important thing is not to let the rules ruin your fun. You can always innovate; after all, it’s your table and you are at perfect liberty to do things your way.