Setting a beautiful table is a great skill to master. And not only for your wedding. You’re going to have dinner parties throughout your life – some big, some small. It is something you will do for date night dinners with your husband and full-blown holiday dinners with your family. Setting a beautiful table for your guests lets them know that you care about entertaining them and you’ve taken the time to make the setting special. And here’s the deal: it doesn’t have to be crazy elaborate.
As we were making dinner for my first Christmas at my in-laws, I realized that the table hadn’t been set. My in-laws weren’t big entertaining people and they didn’t have tons of stuff for decorating a table. So, I walked over to the mantle, pulled down the evergreen bough, and laid it down the middle of the table. Then I took a bunch of candles and placed them on either side of the length of the garland. I then set the table with my mother-in-law’s beautiful china and crystal. Everyone went on and on about how gorgeous the table was during the dinner. And it really was so simple, taking me all of 20 minutes. Getting creative while incorporating the four following components will always create a wonderfully-set table.
1. Table Cover
You first want to put down your foundation piece. This is what all the rest of the components will sit on or next to.
A tablecloth is your best choice when you want to make sure your table is completely protected or you want to hide the condition of your table. Because it covers the entire surface of the table, a tablecloth is ideal for keeping your heirloom piece of furniture from being damaged. Additionally, using a tablecloth can dress up any kind of table folding table, whether it’s a beat-up old table, a sawhorse table, or a rickety folding table! I mean, you probably have no idea you’ve sat down at a wedding to the ugliest eight-foot folding table ever made, only to have it appear to be the most spectacular table you’ve eaten at!
If you have a beautiful dining table but want to have either a splash of color as a focal point or just provide some protection from spills, stains, or food, a runner is a great option. A runner is simply a long piece of fabric that can come in a variety of designs and sizes, making it easy to improve the appearance of your table without covering its beauty. While they do not offer the same amount of protection that a tablecloth does, they do at least cover part of your table. And…the fun part about a runner is that they can easily and inexpensively be changed with the seasons and occasions.
Just like a table runner, placemats are great if you love the appearance of your table and want to show it off. Plus, there is something about placemats that create a homey feel. Maybe it’s what we all had growing up at our dinner tables? But I promise you, the placemat selection out there today is not the simple weaved-with-tassel options of your childhood! Placemats do not need to mean casual. You can dress up a table with placemats just as formally as you can a table with a floor-length table cloth! When we get to the next layer in the table setting below, you’ll see how!
Combination of any of the three
Covering your table – like every other aspect of setting a table – does not have hard and fast rules. If you want to do a combination of a runner and tablecloth, go for it! Wanna do all three, sweet. Nothing at all?No problem! I’m a big fan of layering personally. Just be cognizant of how everything looks together; if it’s too much, pull something away. But if not, then do whatever makes your table look the way YOU want it to!
2. Centering Element
A garland is such a beautiful way to center your tablescape. And we love that it sits low on the table so as not to impede your dinner conversation. We also love that there are so many options for garlands – and at every price point. You can hire a fabulous florist to make you an extravagant floral masterpiece for your table or you can find a steal of a deal on an 80% off garland after the holidays at your local craft store! Whether it’s flowers, a feather boa, or an evergreen bough, let your imagination run wild. Tie in your dinner theme if you have one – strands of beads for Mardi Gras?
A centerpiece is the classic focal point for most table settings. What we love is how centerpieces have evolved over the years. It’s no longer just a big bouquet of flowers in the middle of the table – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that there is so much more you can do with a centerpiece. Flowers are always fantastic, but we love it when people get creative and use other items for their centerpiece. In the above image, you’ll see that birch wood logs were drilled out and votive candles were placed inside them. With the addition of greens, pine cones, and ornaments, it’s the perfect, easy centerpiece for a holiday dinner. You could do a big bowl of fruit or veggies, like artichokes for lots of color and texture. Or just find a cool object from another room in your house – you don’t have to spend a lot of money, just be creative!
3. Accent Décor
Tall and/or Short Vases
Once you get your centering element in place, you can start to create accents to help layer and fill in the table. We love adding additional vases with or without flowers around the table. You can keep it consistent with vases that are all the same height, or you can add some dimension by mixing both tall and shorter vases. In addition, don’t feel like all of your vases need to match. Like the image above, a hodgepodge of different textures, materials, and shapes give a table so much character.
Candlesticks and/or Votives
My husband thinks I’m so weird because I always talk about lighting. Whenever we have moved into a new house, the poor guy has to spend half of a day installing dimmers on EVERY switch. And it’s because lighting changes the mood and feeling of everything. Candlelit dinners are romantic because of the lighting. Somehow a fluorescent-lit dinner doesn’t sound so romantic, amiright? So this step is especially important to me. The lighting step for me is key. You can choose tall candles, short candles, votive candles, pillar candles. I’ve also run white Christmas lights down a garland before; I recommend lights with batteries for that one – you don’t want to have an ugly cord running across your floor! I can’t stress it enough…don’t underestimate the importance of your lighting!
4. Place settings
So this is the step where people get most intimidated, but you don’t have to. We’ve laid it all out for you (literally) and it’s as easy as 1-2-3…17! Follow the numbers below and you can’t mess it up – promise!
- Charger – This, of course, is optional and purely decorative. Can add a pop of color and some dimension to your place setting.
- Dinner Plate – Placed either on top of the charger or directly on the table in the center of the place setting.
- Napkin – Can be placed in many different spots and folded in many different ways. Refer to this blog post for more fun napkin ideas!
- Salad Plate – Only set your table with a salad plate if you are indeed serving a salad. This can also be placed on top of the dinner plate.
- Bread Plate – Only to be used if you are serving bread. Tip, if you are serving butter with your bread, be sure to soften to room temperature before the meal.
- Butter Knife – Used to take a pat of butter off of common butter tray. Do NOT spread butter from the butter tray directly onto your bread!
- Salad Fork – Here’s a secret: always use utensils from the outside in. If you’re ever confused, that’s your go-to tip!
- Dinner Fork – Used for the main course fo the meal.
- Dinner Knife – If you are serving tougher meat like steak, be sure to swap out a standard knife for a steak knife.
- Teaspoon – This is used for your after-dinner tea or coffee if adding cream and/or sugar.
- Soup Spoon – Again, only set a soup spoon if you are serving soup with your meal. Tip, when you spoon your soup, you spoon away from you, not toward you.
- Dessert Spoon – Generally, dessert requires only a fork or spoon. Decide which is best for the dessert you are serving and use this.
- Dessert Fork – However, some etiquette experts say you should eat the soft part of your dessert with your dessert spoon and use your dessert fork for garnishes, like berries.
- Water Glass – Although wine is traditionally the main beverage served with dinner, guests will appreciate a nice glass of water to take larger sips when eating their meal.
- Red Wine Glass – Serve red wine if you are serving red meats, such as beef, steak, or lamb. Red wine can also be served with chicken, but it should be a fruity red wine like Merlot or Zinfandel.
- White Wine Glass – Serve white wine if you are serving fish and seafood, as well as poultry. Dry whites are best for the main course, think Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Blanc.
- Cup + Saucer – If you are serving dessert, be sure to offer an option of coffee or tea for your guests.
One last tip. Did you know that it is proper to not start eating a course of your meal until the host/hostess has lifted their utensil for that course? Keep an eye on your host/hostess; when you see them lift their spoon or fork, you have permission to begin your course.
We hope that this helps you set the perfect table for either your wedding or just a fabulous dinner party with your friends – or even (yikes!) your husband’s boss! You can do it! Have fun, be creative, and Bon Appetit!