Setting the Table

Make dining easy for your guests with the appropriate table settings.


Getting the simple details just right is easy, and it's amazing how much pleasure it will add to your guests' overall enjoyment of a meal. Consider this a primer.

Table Setting Basics

The correct placement of flatware, plates, and glasses is more than just about tradition. Guests appreciate finding pieces in a particular spot.

Tablecloths, place mats, and table runners are optional; napkins, however, are not. Generally dinner napkins are 24 inches square; luncheon and breakfast napkins are a few inches smaller. For casual and family meals, paper napkins are fine. Fold the napkin in an attractive shape and place it on the plate or to the left of the forks.

Buffet-Style Service

Serving food buffet style is an easy way to feed groups of eight or more people. Arrange the buffet table in a logical serving sequence with plates first, followed by the main dish, vegetables, salad, and bread. Arrange condiments next to the dish they accompany. Avoid objects that make it awkward to maneuver around the food, such as slender candlesticks or large centerpieces.

If guests will sit at tables, arrange napkins and flatware in settings at the tables. Place water glasses and empty wineglasses on each table before the party and have an open bottle of wine or a pitcher of water at each table. If guests are not going to be seated at tables, arrange the napkins and flatware at the end of the buffet line and set up a separate table with drinks, glasses, and coffee service. Some hosts place desserts on a separate table.

If there is no table seating for the meal, make sure guests can serve themselves, cut the foods with a fork, and eat easily while sitting with a plate in their laps.

Setting the Scene

When entertaining, a few thoughtful touches can make guests feel truly welcomed into your home.

  • Call on candles or soft lighting to create warmth; avoid scented candles that may clash with the food you serve.
  • Whether tied to the season, linked to the occasion, or an expression of your own creativity, centerpieces add a festive note. Just be sure they're not so tall that guests can't see around them.
  • Music can add to the mood. Keep it at a volume that allows guests to converse comfortably.
  • Monitor guests' comfort throughout the evening. You may have had your heart set on serving guests on the deck, for example, but if the evening turns chilly, move the party indoors.
  • If you serve alcoholic beverages, always have a nonalcoholic drink on hand, and never press a guest who declines an alcoholic beverage.
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