The Perfect Table Setting


We entertain at home a lot, I’d like to think I’ve got the hang of this hostessing thing. It was a learning curve to be honest because I am a pretty casual person and my husband is very, very formal. But we have seemed to find a happy middle ground. Today, I thought I would show you how I would set the table for a basic dinner party- both indoors and out. Typically we serve buffet style or family style for outdoor parties and we serve more formally in a plated style for indoor dinner parties.

What does that entail specifically? Well it can vary depending on how many people and the type of event, but here is what is typical:

Indoor Dinner Party

For an indoor dinner party, we would have some light hors d’oeuvres set out self-serve style since people tend to arrive in a staggered time frame and someone might show up starving. I prefer one bite appetizers because I don’t like carrying around small plates, especially if I am balancing a cocktail. My hubby will usually offer everyone a glass or wine or a cocktail while people say hello and get introduced. If it’s a big party, we station waiters at the entrance with trays of pre-poured champagne and signature cocktails. If you don’t have a bar in your house, a bar cart is an easy addition, or just clear off a small side table or counter and set up glasses, wine and maybe a pitcher of a pre-mixed signature drink. Guests can help themselves.

After cocktails, we would have a seat in the dining room where the table would already be set. A formal place setting usually begins with a charger which is basically a super size decorative plate. This isn’t used to serve any food, it acts more like a placemat. The plate for each course is set directly onto the charger. When I set the table for presentation purposes, I set the dinner plate on top of the charger. Above and to the left of the charger you would place the bread plate and bread knife. Above and to the right of the charger is where the glassware is placed- typically a glass for water, a white wine glass and a red wine glass. In between you would place the dessert fork and the coffee or tea spoon, placed horizontally. To the right of the charger go the soup spoon and knife. And to the left is where you place the salad and entree fork. You have two choices with the napkin- place it on top of the charger and dinner plate as I did here or place it to the left under the forks. For formal dinner parties with table service and a set menu, I like to print that menu out for my guests with their name at the top on pretty paper I find at the craft store. I use these printed menus as placeholders in little card holders at the top of each place setting.

Outdoor Dinner Party

For an outdoor party, there is considerably more leeway. I still use a charger, but there are fun alternatives like bamboo or hyacinth mats or even more traditional placemats. Here I am definitely placing the dinner plate atop the charger since guests will be taking these plates to serve themselves. I also stacked the bread plate, mostly because our set has a fun pattern and I wanted that element as part of the setting and not off to the side. I’ve placed the glasses in the same spot, for many outdoor events we stick with lemonade and iced tea so I have just two glasses- one for water and one for a different beverage of their choice. The knife, spoon, and fork placement all remain the same, but I have chosen to place the napkin under the forks to not mess up my pattern aesthetic with the bread plates. I would typically a chilled dessert after an outdoor event, so a dessert spoon is included at the top of the place setting. Buffet style events I serve coffee and tea by request or simply set out a samovar and coffee pot station and allow guests to help themselves.

Everything in this outdoor table setting is made of melamine and therefore “unbreakable” which makes it a great fit for around the pool. Just because you are serving outside doesn’t mean that you need to be stuck with paper plates. So many places are making super cute melamine or plastic designs for home use now and they’re much more sustainable than constantly buying paper and plastic dishware and glassware.

I have SO many more entertaining tips to share with you guys, but I am not trying to write a novel here so y’all will have to wait for the next post to see what else I have to share!

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