Table Setting Etiquette

What is the proper table setting etiquette?
Proper table setting etiquette does not have to be a complicated process. The first and most enjoyable step is to decide what dishes and utensils you are going to use. This depends on the ambiance you are trying to create. A lot of people are going away from the matched look and creating table settings that use a variety of dishes in complementary colors. The easiest way to decide how to dress your table is to experiment beforehand with different looks until you find one that is perfect for your party.

As far as utensils are concerned, Cathleen Hanson, who is one of the owners and founders of the International School of Protocol, which teaches proper etiquette to children, adults, educators, and businesses, offers this piece of advice: "Silver is at its best price ever. You can go to ebay, and you can get sterling silver at great prices from estate sales, dealers, and just individuals who want to get rid of it. Does your silver have to match? Absolutely not! It can be fun to not match. Look around, and when you see something you like, buy it." She goes on to recommend two books that teach you what to look for when buying silver. The first book is "Sterling Flatware" by Tere Hagan and the second is "American Sterling Silver Flatware" by Mary Anne Dolan.

For proper setting of the table, Cathleen offers these tips: "When you are setting the table, you want the utensils that you are starting with, such as a salad fork, to be farthest from the plate. Forks are on the left and your knives and spoons are to the right of the plate." She uses this example, "Let's say we are having soup, salad, entrée, and dessert - a four-course meal. You would have your soup spoon farthest over to the right (away from the plate) and your dinner knife (closer to the plate) on the right side. On the left side, we would have your salad fork. That's going to be the farthest away from the plate. Then you would put your dinner fork closest to the plate. At the top of the plate, running horizontally, you would have your dessert utensils. You don't want to have more than three of one utensil to either side of the plate. If we are going to have a plate for bread and butter, then this plate goes above the forks to the left."

When it comes to napkin placement, Cathleen offers this advice: "You are going to put your napkin to the left of the fork. With napkins, make sure the napkin is folded like a rectangle. The fold of the napkin should be toward the plate. If you don't have room on your table, you may put the napkin on the plate in front of the guest or put them underneath the forks." When choosing napkins to use, try to keep in mind the size of your table and plan accordingly. Having monogrammed napkins may seem like a beautiful idea, but if you do not have room to fold them in a way that shows the monogram, what's the point? Instead you can use this as an opportunity to add a little bit more flair to your table setting with colorful linen napkins that complement your dishes or centerpiece.

When it comes to positioning the glasses, Cathleen says, "For our glasses, we would have water and/or wine glasses. They are positioned above the knives to the right of the plate. Your water glass is the one that is closest to the center of the plate. Your wine glass is on the outside. Make sure that they are not smudged. If you're using stainless or silver, make sure they are polished and cleaned." If you are planning on serving additional beverages during the meal, place them in order of tallest to shortest. If you are having a larger party, you might want to think about having a bartender. This will allow you to bring out the glasses required for each serving, whisking the previous one away.

Last but not least are condiments such as salt and pepper shakers. Cathleen observes, "Salt and pepper shakers are important to the table setting. You might want to use the individual salt and pepper shakers. They can be fun and it's very inexpensive to buy individual salt shakers. Again, it's just another way to decorate the table. If you want to have little mice salt shakers, do it. Go to the dollar store, and really spice up your table a little bit." She leaves us with this additional simple etiquette tip: "The number one thing with salt shakers is that when someone asks you to pass the salt, always pass the pepper as well. They always travel together."