Set a table for entertaining
To impress your guests at your next dinner party, nothing beats a smartly decorated table. In celebrating Christmas, Easter, an anniversary or any other event, a well set table often becomes the highlight of a reception. Note the tips found in this column and learn how to master the art of setting a table.
Use your imagination to create a festive atmosphere. For example, gently sprinkle your table with glitter and give it a magical effect. If you're still a child at heart, why not mark off the centre of your table with a toy train set in winter scenery?
Setting an attractive table
Whether you're planning a formal reception or a friendly evening, you must set the table according to the prevailing rules of etiquette and good manners. But nothing should stop you from being fanciful!
To start, place a synthetic underpad over the table to protect it against mishaps like spilled red wine or fondue liquid that could stain the table. The underpad can also muffle the sound of the dinnerware as it hits against the table. If you don't have an underpad, use a thin flannel sheet. For a formal dinner, we recommend you use a white damask tablecloth. As for the dinnerware, it should be white, with or without a pattern.
Use a coloured tablecloth for casual dining with friends. Remember to harmonize everything with your interior decorating, including dinnerware and napkins. Choose a plain tablecloth if you decide to use patterned dinnerware. It's important not to match the tablecloth with the colour of the walls.
To assign places to your guests, be creative with name cards that are adapted to the occasion: Christmas, anniversary, Easter, Halloween, etc. Most name cards are made of foldable paperboard. However, you may wish to dispense with this formal way of seating your guests. Instead, if you're serving a seafood dinner you can write the names of your guests on shells.
Your home is full of new ways to create wonderful name cards for seating arrangements. For a festive table, write the names on tree baubles, or decorate iced biscuits with names.
Plates and napkins
Place settings should take your guests' comfort into account. You must allow enough space between each guest so he/she will feel comfortable at the table (approximately 40 cm between plates ). All depends on the number of guests who will sit around the table as well as the width of the chairs.
You should start each place setting with a charger plate (a large plate on which you'll place other plates, which remains on the table between courses so the table will not be left bare).
However, if space is a problem, avoid using charger plates since they're especially large (approximately 28 centimetres in diameter). You should then place a dinner plate atop the charger plate and a bread plate in front and to the left, and a salad plate on the right. Place a napkin on the dinner plate and arrange it to suit the occasion, whether formal or casual.
Flatware should be set in the following manner: first the forks to the left of the charger plate. Set the salad fork next to the plate, then the meat fork and, finally, the fish fork. Then the knives, to the right of the charger plate. Start with the salad knife, then the meat knife and, finally, the fish knife. Remember that the sharp edge of the blade should face towards the charger plate.
The soup spoon, should be set to the right of the fish knife. If seafood and shellfish are served, add an oyster fork.
The number of utensils is determined by the dishes that will be served. No more than three forks and knives should be set on the table. If your dinner includes more than three courses, the fourth fork should be brought with the appropriate course. Dessert utensils should be brought to the table shortly before dessert is served.
You should serve wine in stemmed glasses, set to the right and in front of the charger plate, diagonally if possible, starting with the largest. You will need one glass for each type of wine you plan on serving. Start with the water glass. Follow with the champagne glass (if necessary), the red or white wine glass and finish with the dessert or sherry glass. It's important that you always respect this order.
Salt and pepper shakers should be placed at both ends of the table. If you're going to serve butter, use a covered dish and ensure it's on the table before guests are asked to sit down. Baguette bread, if you chose to serve it, must be cut at an angle, placed in a basket or dish covered with a white napkin and served just before the meal. Allow wine to settle by decanting it in a carafe. If you must, only bring the ashtrays to the table at the same time as dessert.
The centrepiece: originality and good taste!
Make sure that your centrepiece is neither too high or too large so your guests can see each other and talk freely. Your centrepiece can be made of different components: floral arrangement, porcelain, silverware, etc. Nowadays you can let your imagination wander as you decorate for different celebrations. Just be original and stay within the bounds of good taste. If you wish to create a floral centrepiece, choose natural or dried flowers. Specialists in the field contend that seasonal flowers confer a solemn aspect to a table.
A terra cotta pot with an arrangement of candles topped off with small berries and nuts will cost practically nothing to create and will add a nice touch to the table.
Arrangements can stand out in many ways. Among them, the harmony that flows out of the matching of their colours with those of the tablecloth and dinnerware. Or the impact of a single-colour presentation. Or the judicious addition greenery that sets off the colour of the flowers. At the same time, remember that beauty and fragrance don't always go well together. In fact, too much of the right fragrance or any amount of the wrong one could disturb your guests. Finally, we recommend that your floral arrangements not exceed 30 centimetres in height.
Adding candles to your centrepiece is a bright idea. Candlelight creates an intimate atmosphere that relaxes your guests. You can set three or four candles in the middle of the centrepiece, in single candlesticks, or place them on either side of the centrepiece in candelabras. Candelabras are ideal if candles make up your only source of light.
Light candles before your guests are seated. Candles should be high enough so their flame doesn't dazzle your guests. Don't use fragrant candles because they will not blend with the aromas of the food.
Themes: let your imagination wander!
To liven up your dinner, choose a decorating theme that will complement your menu well. For example, if you're serving a seafood dinner, send invitation cards in the shape of fish and create an original centrepiece by replacing candles with lanterns. To make the evening fun, ask your guests to dress up as fishermen, etc. For an Oriental dinner, place Japanese lanterns on your table and replace the forks with chopsticks. Make original name cards with origami (Japanese paper-folding art for creating different shapes such as animals, etc.) or write the names of your guests in Japanese (if you can) on their name cards. There are no limits to your imagination and your guests will be happy to take an active part in the evening.
Accommodating children at the table
Just like grown-ups, children must feel welcome. Make a special corner for them so they'll feel at home. For example, prepare an amusing centrepiece for them (in keeping with the evening's theme ). Or prepare a small bag of party favours for them and place it on every charger plate.
If you plan to sit the children at the same table as the grown-ups, see that their dinnerware be less elaborate. You can sit children together, or sit them between the other guests so they can socialize. It's a matter of choice and space. For successful entertaining, try to please all the senses: silky textures, a brilliant table, appetizing smells, soft music and a tasty meal.