Hostess How-To: Setting The Perfect Table for A Dinner Party

November marks the unofficial beginning of the holiday season and that can only mean colder weather, overcrowded malls,  and parties.  Lots and lots of parties! For me, I prefer the intimacy and warmth of private dinner parties to celebrate the chilly winter season with family and friends.  And the only thing better than being a guest at one is being the apron-donned hostess – experimenting with my version of gourmet dishes and whimsical holiday decor.

As the hostess, it’s important to remember that All Postswhile the lit tree, mistletoe, and pine cone ornaments are important in providing a festive feel, the focus of the celebration will reside mostly in the dinner so you’ll want to ensure this, too, is decorative and appealing to the eye. Starting with the foundation – a properly set table and there are 4 basic elements you’ll want to apply in order to achieve a fabulous dinner party:

    • Start by setting out the dinner plates.  You’ll want to make sure they are evenly spaced and far enough apart that guests have ample elbowroom on either side – that usually measures 2 feet from plate center to plate center. Once you’ve set your plates, use them to balance the rest of your settings.
    • When serving bread, place a butter plate above the forks to the left of the plate and include a butter knife or spreader.
    • Silverware is typically placed in the order of its use – from the outside in, first course to main course.
    • Forks should be placed to the left of the plate while knives and spoons are placed to the right.  The only exception to this rule is if you are using a cocktail fork, in which case it would be placed at the outermost right side of the plate.
    • Knives should be placed with the cutting edge facing the plate and all of the handles of the forks, spoons, and knives should be in alignment.
    • For super formal dinner parties, such as for a wedding reception, remove the used utensils after each course is completed
    • When it comes to dessert, you can be fancy and place the silverware above the plate with the fork handle to the left and the spoon or knife handle to the right (the cutting edge should face down) or you can also just bring out dessert silverware with the dessert.
    • Glasses should be placed above the knives in a straight row, slanting downward from the upper left, going from biggest to smallest. Make sure smaller glasses aren’t hidden behind larger ones. An example of a proper arrangement would be a water goblet in back, wine glass, then a dessert glass closest to your guest.
    • When it comes to serving coffee with the meal, you can place the cup and saucer to the right of the setting, with the coffee spoon on the right side of the saucer or just bring the coffee out with dessert.

Use the diagram below as your visual guide when arranging the place settings for your next dinner party:

  • Get a final headcount. Knowing how many guests to expect is essential to knowing the amount of food you’ll want to prepare as well as the number of settings that will need to be placed.  When inviting guests, set a date for them to RSVP by so you are not scrambling to finalize a guest list at the last minute.
  • Add the accent! Figure out if you want to use a cranberry tablecloth or wintergreen place mats, or both.  What about place cards?  Sparkly napkin rings? Tealight candles? Shiny charger plates? Stores like HomeGoods (my personal favorite) are perfect for finding simple enhancement options that can add a little pop to your party decor.
  • Give yourself time. While it may look easy, preparing for a dinner party takes time – even for the more advanced of party hosts. Prep food ahead of time and survey your kitchen to make sure you have amble bowls, warming trays, and serving utensils.  Your goal should be to have the food and yourself guest ready no less than 90 minutes in advance of the start time.
One more thing you must include at the table of your dinner party is laughter.  After all, it’s the holiday season and family and close friends are the best gifts any season can offer. Happy holidays!