How to Set a Proper Table Setting for the Holidays or Any Other Day, Even When It's Just the In-Laws for Dinner!

Holiday table setting.
Holiday table setting. | Source
Fall or Thanksgiving table setting idea.
Fall or Thanksgiving table setting idea. | Source

How Proper Table Setting Got Started

Imagine Mrs. Cave Lady as she planned dinner for her mother-in-law and father-in-law. Not a pretty picture. She needs to have the proper table setting to make an impression. But this is her first dinner party and she wrings her hands in agitation. Unfortunately, she can't begin to remember how to execute the proper table setting. Oh, wait! That hasn't been invented, yet. No worries here about the place setting for silverware, or dinner place settings.

But you're not Mrs. Cave Lady and Snap! You live in the 21st Century where table setting etiquette in some situations can mean a lot of enjoyment for you, if nothing else. On the other hand, it might be just the smooth move that helps you cinch that promotion on the job or give you access to the top project you've been angling for.

16th Century Cutlery - Knives and Forks
16th Century Cutlery - Knives and Forks | Source

Table Setting In the Beginning

So, how did all this table etiquette get started? Well, back to Mrs. Cave Lady. All she really had to worry about were the few shells or slivers of wood used to scrap the roasted saber toothed rabbit off the stone slab, albeit neatly arranged in a circle. In a few thousand years, the shells and wooden slivers became much more elaborate knives and spoons and rules started to come into play. In fact, the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks all found that it was just as important to have the table well presented as it was to wage a proper war. Initially, that presentation was more about the placement of the food. Because the distance from the kitchen to the dining table was usually quite far, the order in which the food was delivered was more important than which eating utensils would be the best for the turtle soup, for example. In fact, the eating utensils were just knives and crude spoons.

The first table setting that looked anything like the table setting of today was probably introduced sometime during the the Medieval ages. It was about this time that the fork was introduced and gradually replaced the blunted knife as the preferred eating utensil.

The proper place setting that is closer to what we see today was developed during the 19th Century. That same place setting was refined over time until we have the place setting that is standard use for today's formal dinner gathering and the place setting that is generally used for the informal dinner parter.

Christmas table setting.
Christmas table setting. | Source
Place setting for bridal shower or small wedding rehearsal dinner.
Place setting for bridal shower or small wedding rehearsal dinner. | Source

Tips for Today's Proper Table Setting and a Great Holiday Dinner Party

  1. Plan your menu early. You don't want to make your menu in haste. The occasion should dictate your theme and, can often by default, point to what you should served. For example, the traditional 4th of July celebration brings to mind barbecue chicken and potato salad. This would also mean your place setting is much more relaxed, almost nonexistent. On the other hand Thanksgiving dinner is going to be turkey usually paired with a spectacular dressing and other traditional sides.
  2. Develop your invitation list. Avoid inviting individuals who don't get along unless you want to add referee to your resume.
  3. Determine the size of the guest list and the theme of the gathering.
  4. Make your guests feel special; send an invitation keeping with your theme. Include the menu in that invitation. When they arrive, have place cards for each of them.
  5. Be creative as you plan your table decorations. Have fun with this. Again, themes make it easy. Include a nice tablecloth or table runner as part of your decorations. Repurpose items to make the decorations stand out. For example, scatter jewels used in fashion adornment across your table to add unexpected sparkle.
  6. Use your best dishes, silverware, tablecloth, etc. to set that impressive table for the mother-. Your table setting is going to depend on the size and kind of guest list. For an outdoor patio party, use a fabulous pattern of disposable plates, place mats, etc., but why not use your silverware to add interest. There is also plasticware that even looks like silverware. Trés chic at a picnic.
  7. The week of the party, purchase all but the most perishable items for the party. Prepare as much of the menu as possible ahead of time. Consider catering all or part of your menu. This is the time to keep to recipes you've tried and had success with. If you feel the urge to experiment, choose an item that you would have two of. For example, prepare two deserts and make one of them your experimental dish.
  8. Plan your libations carefully. If you are inviting someone who may have issues with alcohol, stick to nonalcoholic beverages. Again, follow your theme. Cider- or cranberry-based drinks are great for the winter Holidays.
  9. Most of all, have fun with every step. Planning your get together should be fun, not torture and stress. Whether you choose a formal place setting for dinner with the boss or dinner with close friends, with planning, it can be enjoyable.

Proper Place Setting complete with soup bowl, salad bowl, salad fork, butter plate and knife, desert spoon, water glass, red and white wine glasses. Eliminate dishes and silverware that don't correspond to your menu. No soup? Remove the bowl, etc.
Proper Place Setting complete with soup bowl, salad bowl, salad fork, butter plate and knife, desert spoon, water glass, red and white wine glasses. Eliminate dishes and silverware that don't correspond to your menu. No soup? Remove the bowl, etc. | Source

Setting the Table

You should only place utensils on the table if they will be used for a specific purpose during the meal. No soup on the menu? No soup spoon on the table. Don't put out the cup and saucer if you have no intention of serving coffee or hot tea.

When in doubt about the proper place setting, work your way in to the plate, starting with the fork on the left of your plate.

Thanks to the evolution of the table setting from Medieval times to today, standard table setting etiquette has been established. Polished silverware is placed around the plate according to the order of the courses. This might vary between European order of service and American order. Observe the custom of the culture you grew up in. Will the proper setting of today change in the future? Probably.

However, for the early 21st Century, just remember, take the time for proper table setting, and have fun while you impress your guests, the in-laws, your family and everyone else.


Copyright 2011: Cynthia Turner


Why not set the table with attractive silverware?

More by this Author


Comments 27 comments

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

very good information.. a well written Hub Cyndi10 :) Frank


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi Frank, Thank you for taking a few minutes to read it. I enjoyed researching and writing it.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA

I think all that table setting etiquette is way too much for people with too much time on their hands, but all your photos are gorgeous, so it definitely does have its place. Voted up - it will be helpful if I ever host an important person.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

LOL. I have fun with it 'cause everybody is important (but they say what you). No free time, really, since I spend most of it on hubpages :-) I'm glad you like the pictures. Thank you so much for voting it up!


thougtforce profile image

thougtforce 4 years ago from Sweden

Very interesting to read the history behind the table setting! A proper table setting is so beautiful but I can´t say that I set tables like this. The closest I get to a proper table setting is on Christmas or New Year eve. But I don't think I ever get it quite right:) I enjoyed reading this, voting up,

Tina


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi Tina, Those table settings can get quite elaborate. The Holidays are a fun excuse to dress up the table. Thanks for reading!


moiragallaga profile image

moiragallaga 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

Beautiful hub Cyndi10. You provide very useful tips and complement them with good photos. If I may add, taking the time to set a proper table is not only fun and liable to impress the guests, it also is an expression of respect and courtesy to your guests. For older generations, this gesture is something that will be deeply appreciated. It is good you wrote this hub, as it helps inculcate to younger generations the value of traditions such as having proper and formal dinner at home once in a while.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello Moira, Thank you so much for your comments. You are so right. I am going to include in my article that it is an expression of respect and courtesy for the guests when you take the time to set an inviting table. I am happy that you enjoyed reading.


rutley profile image

rutley 4 years ago from South Jersey

Voted up and thanks for the info!


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Thank you so much for reading and commenting!


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Nicely done. Especially like the tips, which I wasn't expecting. Voting this Up and Useful.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi Alocsin, Thanks so much for reading and voting up. I glad you enjoyed it along with the tips.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 4 years ago from America

I love a pretty table but never get to set much now. Enjoyed your hub. Voted up and Shared.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 4 years ago from America

Guess I can't share.


2patricias profile image

2patricias 4 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

Good advice! I always eat at the table, and always set it before preparing the food. I do like to step things up for a dinner party though, with candles or pretty napkins.

On the rare occasions when I have dinner guests who do not know each other, I use place cards.

Thanks for a useful hub.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello, Oh, I'm so happy that you took a look at my article. I don't have much time for setting the table either. That means we both should take time for something we like to do. Invite a few friends over and wow them with the table. Thank you for the votes and sharing!


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

I think you were able to share it after all. Thanks again.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello Patricia, That is awesome. I don't get to set the table nearly as often as I would like. I definitely set it for holidays and for special occasions like birthdays and definitely when I have company. I commend you for making sure your table is set for meals. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.


Dianne 4 years ago

This tablesetting is not complete until you place the napkin under the forks!


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Napkin placement can vary, depending on how formal you choose to be. As you know, napkins are sometimes made into shapes and placed in the center of the plate. Sometimes napkins are placed beside the forks. It can vary. Thanks so much for your comment.


MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

I enjoyed reading about the history of table etiquette. Your photos are gorgeous. I do enjoy putting up a nice table setting. I'm one of those people who likes to put out a cute centerpiece, folded napkins, the works. I do this even for my husband and myself at dinner. He cooks and I set the table. It's fun!


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi Marlene, I love the routine you and your husband have. Many times, if I cook, I'm to preoccupied with that to get the table set the way I want. I love setting the table with all the pieces I've collected over the years and that were passed down to me. Truthfully, I don't do it often enough. Thanks for leaving a comment.


newbizmau profile image

newbizmau 16 months ago from Mobile, AL

I enjoy making place settings everyday. I know work at find dining restaurant and place all kinds of arrangements according to the courses. The most glasses I've ever had to place was 4 including a tea cup and flute. I'm impressed with the pictures.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 16 months ago from Georgia Author

Four glasses! That's a lot. Thank you for reading the hub. I have fun with the place settings but I don't have nearly enough time to really use the dishes I have, especially since they require handwashing. That's no fun :-) Take care.


Taranwanderer profile image

Taranwanderer 13 months ago

Interesting - maybe someday I'll get to use these tips. For now, everyone just eats around the three tv in the living room for the basketball games when all the families get together for the holidays lol.

http://hubpages.com/food/The-Beauty-of-a-Breakfast...


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 13 months ago from Georgia Author

I get it. Sometimes the camaraderie of watching sports together trumps setting the table.

Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!

Take care.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 13 months ago from Georgia Author

Hey, sports rule most of the time. LOL. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

Take care.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working