Etiquette Tips: How To Set A Formal Dinner Table

Tips on linens and where to place dinnerware, glassware and silverware on a formal dinner table according to tradition and etiquette.

The good linens are pressed, the cloth napkins are inserted into fancy rings and there's a catering truck out front. You must be hosting a formal dinner party. Who wouldn't like to get dressed up and share some delicious food among the company of dear friends? Once your good tablecloth is spread across the dining room table, do you know where to place the dinnerware? Let's hope so. It makes no sense to host a formal party with all the trimmings, yet have the table set in the same manner as you would for a regular family dinner.

Don't be intimidated by all the different forks and drinking glasses. Setting a formal table isn't as difficult as one would think. Once you learn the rules and a few tricks, you'll be fine, and your guests will think you've been living the elegant life for years.

It's important to start with a clean, starched white linen tablecloth. It's acceptable to use another subtle color for your linens, but nothing says elegant like white. Colored linen napkins in decorative rings, especially those that compliment the China pattern, make attractive accents and add some color. Linen placemats, matching the napkins, can also be used.

The first items to be placed on the tablecloth should be the dinner plates. These should be in the middle of each place setting. Each person's tableware should be placed at equal intervals around the table. In the center of each dinner plate should be the napkins, either folded elegantly, or neatly rolled into a napkin ring.

To the right of each plate are the knives. Since the general rule of formal silverware is to eat working your way in, silverware should be placed on the table in the order it's to be used. Make sure the knives are placed on the table with the blade turned towards the plate. Since knives are used generally to cut meat and nothing else, there's a good chance only one knife will be placed on the table, unless you'll be employing the use of a steak knife.To the right of the knives are the spoons. In many cases, only a soupspoon will be used, unless there is a melon course, in which case the melon spoon is closest to the knives, and the soupspoon should be first in the row. Dessert spoons are placed above the plate.

To the left of each plate are the forks, also to be placed in the order of use. In most cases it's a seafood fork first, entrée fork and last is the salad fork. For formal occasions, the salad comes at the end of the meal. It's important to note that all silverware should be placed an inch from the edge of the table. This is to keep everything looking uniform and tidy.

Above the forks is the bread plate.

Above the plate to the left is the water glass followed by red wine glass, white wine glass, cordial glass, and champagne glass. If coffee is to be served, cups will be brought out with dessert, as will a dessert fork and coffee spoon.

Don't forget to add an attractive centerpiece to the table. Candles or flowers are appropriate; just don't make them so tall your guests can't see over them to talk with the other guests.

As you can see, it's not difficult to set a formal table. Sure, it's a bit more time consuming than the kind of table you would set for say"¦ a barbecue, but this makes the occasion all the more special. Once you see how easy it is to host a formal affair, you'll be sure to host more in the future.

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