Table Setting Ideas

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When staging a home to sell, a great idea in the dining room is setting the table for a meal. You don’t want to leave the table as a blank piece of furniture. Instead, setting a table gives potential buyers a sense of what it might look like to host a Christmas, Thanksgiving or other holiday dinner in their new home.

So, break out the fine china, stock the cocktail bar, and create a table setting everyone will rave about.

When we staged our home to sell, we set the dining room table. Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Step-By-Step Guide to Setting a Table

Setting the table only takes a few minutes. Here are the steps for how to set a table, so you know just where everything goes.

1. Start by laying the placemats at each setting. Placemats not only add color and texture but also help make cleanup a breeze and protect against accidental scratches. 

2. Next, place the dinner plate in the center of each placemat with room for utensils and glasses on either side. If serving salad, nestle that plate atop the dinner plate and soup bowl on top of the salad plate.

3. Place napkins to the left of each place setting, crisply folded. Another option: you can put them through a decorative napkin ring on top of each bowl or plate. Napkins are practical for cleaning hands while eating but also add a touch of elegance.

Arranging utensils, glasses and dining accessories

Next, you want to arrange the utensils on either side of the plate. Place forks on the left side of the plate, on top of the folded napkin. Then, the knives and spoons go on the right side of each dish.

The order in which these utensils are arranged depends on what type of meal you’re serving. For example, a formal dinner will have more utensils than a casual lunch. Either way, you set each place setting by working your way from the outside in. That is, you start with the salad fork to the far left and end with the dinner fork closest to the plate, also on the left.

On the other hand, the soup spoon should sit outside the knife on the right. That knife is closest to the plate, with the blade facing the dish. The dessert spoon should be arranged above the plate and perpendicular to the dining utensils if needed.

Next, set the water and wine glasses at the top right of each place setting, above and slightly to the right of each knife.

Place a butter dish or bread plate above and slightly left of each fork, if using.

Finally, add other decorative accents or accessories for ambiance, like small vases, salt and pepper shakers, or name tags for seating arrangements. Small touches can add an extra pop of elegance to your table setting without making it look cluttered or overwhelming for guests.

Where does the wine glass go when setting the table?

The wine glass should be placed at the top right of each place setting with a water glass. It sits above and slightly to the right of the knife.

Just like setting a table, choosing the correct wine glass is an important detail. Have white or red wine glasses on the table, depending on your menu and the wine you intend to pair with it.

Quick tip: when I attended etiquette school — which, ironically, happened after I’d written my book The Everything Etiquette Book: A Modern Day Guide to Good Manners — we learned a quick tip for figuring out which side the glass goes and which side the bread plate goes. It’s a hack using your hands.

Take your index finger and touch your thumb. Then, straighten your remaining fingers.

Look down. You’ll see that your left hand is making a lowercase “b” and your right hand is making a lowercase “d.” Now you know to put the bread plate on the left and the drinking glass on the right.

Another way to think about it? Do you know French? If so, then you know that droite means right so the same idea.

Or you could think to yourself, “Drink = droite” and then you’ll always know to put the drinking glass on the ride side of the plate.

Tips for Remembering Where the Utensils Go

One tip for remembering where the utensils go is to “work from the outside in,” meaning to place the salad fork furthest out from the plate since it would be the first course. Same for the soup spoon outside the knife, as the soup dish would be served before the main course. 

From there, another tip is “right for the knife,” since most right-handed people use their knife with their dominant hand. 

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Setting a Table

If you’re actually setting a table for a legit dinner party, here are some ideas for avoiding common mistakes when setting up a formal dining table.

  • Plan your meal ahead of time, so you know what utensils will be needed to enjoy each course, and make sure to set the table accordingly, working from outside to inside to ensure each knife, fork, and spoon is in the correct spot. 
  • Additionally, overcrowding the table can make it look cluttered. Try to minimize the height and width of items so guests can easily see one another when enjoying their meal and talking. 

Tips for the perfect dinner party

Once you’ve set the perfect table, there are several additional tips to consider to ensure that dinner goes off without a hitch. 

  • Planning the meal and shopping ahead of time will minimize the day of cooking stress, allowing more time for making the ambiance perfect. 
  • For big parties, consider setting out the place settings early in the morning before the rush of cooking starts so you have one less thing to worry about. 
  • It can also be helpful to set up a buffet-style serving area for the main course. 
  • Consider having a few appetizers as guests arrive before everyone sits for supper. 
  • Have a bottle of wine decanted before and a pitcher of lemon water on a tray or counter nearby for serving easy refills. 
  • Have extra food storage containers handy for guests to take home leftovers.

Final thoughts on table setting ideas

Now you know how to set a table. It’s a skill I think everyone should possess.

All that’s left is putting it all to practice. Setting the table adds an elegant touch to any meal or gives buyers an idea of what it would look like to host a holiday dinner in your home that’s for sale.

This post first appeared on Food Drink Life.

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