How to Set the Table for a Dinner Party

Anyone can throw a dinner party—seriously. Even the most novice cook is capable of whipping up a pasta dish—or having Fresh Direct deliver the whole meal. The appeal of the dinner party lies not in the amount of time you spend preparing each dish (none of your guests are around for that part, anyway) but in the conversations and laughter shared around the table. 


One way to encourage those connections and get your guests to linger? Set the table with intention. It’s easy to do, and it will give your guests the impression that tonight isn’t just a meal—it’s an occasion. Mastering the basic table setting is easy, and once you have it down, you can upgrade to a more formal setting with just a few additional pieces: the salad fork, the dessert spoon, and the like.


Here’s how to set a basic table with very un-basic style:


Start with a placemat. Put placemats at every guest’s seat and boom—the dining table looks instantly more put together. We recommend simple linen ones. They’re easy to care for, they don’t need ironing, and you just throw them in the wash when you’re done. 


Set the plate on the placemat. We suggest foregoing your fine china, which could feel too formal. We’re a fan of stoneware plates for their durability and more-casual vibe.


Arrange the napkin.  Tuck the napkin next to the plate, folded side in. Again, simple and unfussy works best here. You can’t go wrong with a linen napkin, which complements any setting.


Put the salad plate on top of the dinner plate. If you’re not planning to serve a salad, no sweat—just skip this step. 


Place the dinner fork on the left side of the plate and the salad fork next to it. These can go right on top of the napkin (minus the salad fork, if you don’t need it). 


Place the knife on the right side of the plate, blade side facing in. Place the spoon next to the knife. Keep it casual—no need to break out Great-Grandma Ellen’s antique silverware. Simple, everyday flatware feels appropriate no matter the occasion.


Set the water glass directly above the knife. Above that, and slightly to the right, place the wine glass.


And you’re done! You can stop there or deck out the tabletop with decor. You might want to add vases of fresh flowers, candles, or a pretty napkin holder or two. No matter what you decide, remember that your guests aren’t there to judge; they came for the food and the company. The table setting is a supporting cast member in the production of a blockbuster evening. Just like an Oscar-winning supporting actress, it makes the star of the show—you!—shine.


Image courtesy of Carthage.Co Stoneware.

Erin Klabunde is a writer, editor, and Second City-trained comedian. Her work appears on Amendo and Medium. She regularly performs in the shower, mostly Celine Dion's back catalog. She lives in New York. Follow her on Twitter @klabundles.

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