With Christmas approaching, we may be invited to formal Christmas dinners and company occasions. Visit The Catholic News online for the full series on dining etiquette by Dr Theresa Yorke Metzger.
Dinner time is an opportunity for families to enjoy a meal and each other’s company. Knives and forks may be used for the meal but setting the table could convert a simple dinner into an event. There may also be times when we want to celebrate a special occasion with family and friends.
Table setting has its own rules and etiquette. One needs to distinguish between a salad fork and a dessert fork. There are also different glasses for various drinks, and each is positioned in a particular place on the table.
This guide to table setting will show the best ways to lay a table for different situations- basic, casual, and formal dining. These general rules for cutlery placement will demonstrate how to set the perfect table.
What are the different types of table setting?
There are general table setting rules and etiquette which could be applied to all types of place settings, with further requirements for casual or more formal tables. Casual is of course more relaxed than formal dining tables. The host decides on the level of formality.
How to set a basic table
The basic table setting comprises what is needed for an everyday meal. This setting would be used for daily dinners, or a special brunch.
A basic table setting includes a charger plate, knife and fork, a water glass, and a napkin. With this table setting, there is often no dessert cutlery as dessert may not be served. Likewise, there is no need for a wine glass if no wine is included. Wine may however be served at a brunch. The basic table setting is easy to master and comes in handy at home, over the holidays.
How to set a casual/informal table
The casual table setting has become popular at events such as weddings and dinner parties at home. It gives a special touch without being too formal.
To set a casual table, a knife and fork are needed for both the starter and the main course – or a soup spoon if this is the starter. A spoon and dessert fork are placed horizontally above the plate.
Glassware will depend on the drinks being served, but generally, water glass and wine glasses are placed above the knives at the top right. Napkins are placed in the centre of the setting, or to the left of the forks, or underneath them.
Note that dessert utensils can be placed above the setting during the entire meal or brought out with the dessert. If set for the entire meal, the fork is placed with the handle pointing toward the left, while the spoon sits above the fork and its handle presents to the right. The right hand uses the spoon and the left one uses the fork. The butter knife is placed on the butter plate with the blade facing in toward the diner.
The informal table setting is ideal for casual three course dinners and informal but upscale dinner parties. One may take into consideration the season and set the table to suit. Varied looks are possible with casual table settings.
How to set the formal table
The formal table setting is used in traditional fine dining restaurants, but at home, the formal style is most commonly used where there are more than three courses involved, such as a dinner party.
The variety of different foods requires additional cutlery with different plates and glassware to accompany them. Formal dining generally uses a tablecloth. White table linens are most formal, but neutral colours can still be elegant.
Ensure that the well-ironed tablecloth hangs evenly on both sides. The centerpieces should be low so that guests could engage in conversation.
In setting a formal table, start with the menu and identify what is needed. If soup glassware for the formal setting includes a water glass – usually the biggest glass on the table – a small wine glass for white wine and a larger, rounded wine glass for red wine. Glasses are grouped together in the top right hand corner of the setting. The water glass is placed above the dinner knife and the other glasses are arranged around it. A cup and saucer may be set out for after dinner coffee. This would go underneath the glassware, to the right of the knives.
Cutlery is set in the order of use: outer utensils for the first courses and the innermost for the main course. Forks go on the left of the setting and knives on the right, an exception being the oyster fork which is placed on the right side. The butter knife, however, is placed on the plate at the top left. The dessert spoon and fork should be placed above the plate.
Even though formal settings are a little more traditional, they could still be unique. Napkin rings, individual place cards could add to the décor.
In summary, it matters not the meal for which the table is being set, be it a two course or eight course meal, certain rules should be followed. Each guest must have a setting in front of their seat at the table with everything they need to enjoy their meal. Each implement on the table has a function – whether that’s glassware, cutlery, or crockery. Remember, you should only have on the table the things your guests will need.