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How to Set a Modern Table

Wednesday, 5 January 2011 | Tags: ,

Since family dinner is usually a casual affair, setting the table properly is often overlooked. But there's method to it, and if you're going to sit down and eat as a family (recommended to be done 3 times/week by Gordon Ramsay in his Family Fare cookbook), we think setting the table is a great ritual to maintain. Here's what we learned about the do's and don'ts.

We headed to the one place where manners matter most, London, England, and met up with author and celebrity Liz Brewer, an expert on all things proper, for some tips on setting a table for today’s family.

Liz Brewer says:

  • Always remember when you’re laying a table to think common sense. If it doesn’t affect the taste of the food, don’t get hung up on the details.

  • The first thing you do when you sit down at the table is reach for the napkin. Don’t hide it under the cutlery! Put it on top of the plate or on the side plate so it is easy to grab without knocking things on the floor.

  • Glasses: you drink water throughout the meal, so the water glass should be the closest to your plate. Next, the white wine glass, and then the red wine glass. Place the wine glasses in the order that you generally drink them. (White is usually first, with the lighter courses.)

  • Cutlery: When you sit down to eat, the cutlery should be placed in the order that you will use them. The salad fork (left) and the soup spoon (right) on the outside, then the dinner fork (left) and knife (right) on the inside.

  • Etiquette: when you are finished eating, line your cutlery up on the plate diagonally at 4 o’clock (as though they are the little hand on the clock). If you’re not finished and don’t want someone to clear your plate, place your utensils splayed out at approximately 3:45.

  • Napkin: at the end of the meal, don’t fold your napkin neatly. Leave it on the side plate or next to the setting but make sure it looks used. You don’t want the host to think it’s clean and accidentally put it away without washing!
  • And finally, always remember, make life simple!

More Table-Setting Tricks

  • Forget how to arrange a place setting? Think FORKS! From left to right:

    • F – the fork;
    • O – the round plate;
    • (R, well, nothing here, but Ready to continue!);
    • K – the knife;
    • S – the spoon. Easy!
  • Glasses and side plates: to remember which side they go on, note that when you touch the tips of your left thumb and forefinger together and hold your other fingers straight up, your left hand makes a small ‘b’. B is for the bread and butter plate, which goes on the left. Similarly, your right hand makes a small ‘d’. D is for drinks, which go on your right.

  • Other important things to remember:

    • The sharp side of the knife blade always faces inward, toward the plate.

    • The butter knife can go on top the bread plate.

    • If there’s no salad plate, the bread plate can go next to the forks. If there is a salad plate and a bread plate, the bread plate goes above and slightly to the right of the salad plate.
    • Dessert spoons, forks, and plates can be brought in after the dinner course has been served and cleared.

    • Dirty utensils should never be placed on the table, placemat, or tablecloth. Leave them on the plate.

    • In an informal dinner, you can forgo the salad plate and serve greens directly on the dinner plate. But if the entrée contains a runny sauce or gravy, it’s best to serve salad on a separate plate so the salad isn’t flooded.

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