Setting the Table

An experienced hostess knows just how to set the table.  And an experienced guest knows how to navigate a table setting.  In today's etiquette post, I've got you covered on how to handle both.

At a formal table, linen napkins should be used.  Iron on the reverse side of the monogram or embroidered pattern while the napkin is damp so that any embroidery pops out.  Iron until the napkin is completely dry (don't use the steam setting, because that will add additional wetness).  Fold the napkin, and quickly press to make creases in the folds.  For great linen napkin options (either for yourself or as a gift) try Schweitzer Linen. Linen napkins will either be placed to the left of the dinner plate, or on top of the dinner plate.

Silver is a thing of the past for many people, but I love it!  It costs an arm and a leg at Tiffany's these days, but it's manageable if you start a small collection and add to it bit by bit on holidays or before big dinner parties. Also, keep your eyes peeled for antique silver at antique shops and vintage stores.  You should be able to pick up some reasonably priced serving pieces that will lend your table a touch of gorgeousness (I was particularly proud of myself for locating a vintage silver punch ladle monogrammed with an 'A' at John Derian this past Christmas).  Don't be worried if the silver at the shop looks tarnished or dull: you should be able to polish it right up with silver polish.  Fun fact: the Tiffany's silver pictured here was gifted to my grandmother as part of her wedding trousseau in the 1940's.  It is monogrammed with her husband's initial, 'H'. 

Expert tips: if you're looking to start your own set of silver, purchase a set of salad forks and use them both for first course and dessert (no need to buy forks for both).  A butter knife will get you surprisingly far even with items like steak, so long as you serve it sliced. 

Forks are to be laid out in the order of courses, with the first course on the outer left.  If you are an at-home hostess, don't worry about asking a guest to keep a fork for a second course.  If you are a guest at a five-star restaurant (ie: at a formal business dinner), trust your server.  He or she has laid out your forks correctly.  Each time your server takes away a plate, he will also take away a fork.  Whether at home or at Per Se, the innermost fork is for your main course.  As for the sweet finish: dessert forks should either be laid horizontally at the top of the dinner plate, face up, tines facing to the right (at home hostess) or brought separately just before dessert is served (restaurant fine dining).  Your knife should be facing the dinner plate just to the left of your plate, and your soup spoon or dessert spoon may be laid to the right of the fork.

Expert tip: The bottoms of the silverware should always line up. 

Glassware should be set out on the right-hand side of the dinner plate, with the water glass as the inner-most glass.  To the upper right of the water glass: red wine glass.  To the lower right: white wine glass.  I use a set of Pineapple cut vintage crystal glasses for water (or cocktails) and I rely on Reidel for crystal wine glasses.  If you are just building your homewares: spend the money to buy Reidel!  You can buy a pair of the stemless version for $25, and your wine will taste way better (that and skip the Yellowtail for a similarly priced, high-quality bottle from a smaller vitner.  Chat up the fellas at the liquor store.)

Expert Tip:  Make sure to steam your crystal glasses before use.  

Now, I know you don't need help locating your dinner plate!  But you might choose to add a bread and butter plate to the upper left of your dinner plate or a charger plate underneath your dinner plate, which is never removed from the table until dessert is served.  If you are using a charger, your initial setting will be three layers: charger, dinner plate, salad plate (mix and match china patterns for a fun look!).

Ready, set, eat!