How to set a formal and refined table? TB Groupe’s tips on proper table etiquette!

You have the proper tableware: your TB Groupe cutlery and silverware as well as a stunning and perfectly positioned tablecloth. Your dishes are simmering on the woodstove or oven and your guests will be arriving shortly. Everything is ready, or almost ready. A question is nagging away at you: How do you properly set a table to ensure the perfect dinner? Where do you place the stemware, silverware and the array of different sized plates? Basic table etiquette rules do exist to help guide you in this area of expertise. The following article dishes out all you need to know about how to properly set a table.

How to set a formal and refined table? TB Groupe's tips on proper table etiquette!

How to properly set a table? TB Groupe lays out the basics!

How do you properly set a table without making any faux pas or giving a bad impression to your guests who are well versed in the customs and traditions of dining etiquette?

It is not necessary to present you with an overly thorough overview of proper table etiquette. However TB Groupe would like to provide you with the basic and most important rules of savoir-vivre.

Should you use a tablecloth or place mats?

To start, place a well-ironed tablecloth on the table, being sure that there is not the slightest hint of a wrinkle.

It must fall approximately 12 inches above the floor on all sides of the table.

If you do not have an adequately sized tablecloth try removing the table extensions from the middle of your table. Take 3 table clothes and pin them together –one on the left, middle and right hand side of the table- be sure to fasten the pins on the underside of the tablecloth in areas of the table that will not be covered.

Quick tip: place a table protector under the tablecloth for added comfort and protection. If your table is made of glass or wood consider using embroidered or colorful place mats, adding beauty to your table.

The dishware

One must follow the rules of proper table etiquette concerning the amount of space allotted to each guest at the dining table. Ideally one should leave 19.5 inches between each plate (leave at least 12 – 16 inches).

Start by placing a charger plate at each place setting approximately half an inch from the edge of the table (regardless of the size of your plates). Never place more than two plates on top of the charger plate. One French tradition is to serve a course of cheese after the main dish and before the dessert. You must remove the charger plate when the course of cheese is served.

The 3 plates that are commonly used to properly set a table are as follows:

  • Charger plate
  • Dinner plate
  • Coupe plate or shallow bowl

Special plates such as foie gras or cheese plates can be brought to the table throughout the duration of the dinner.

Never place two dinner plates on top of each other! However using silver, gold, glass or wicker charger plates is highly recommended. These plates not only bring beauty to the table but they also protect the table from any plates that may be too hot.

After placing the dishware the only other items that should be at the table are the breadbasket and possibly a large decorative center plate. Use your imagination to choose the other decorative items. Why not add a few flowers?
During the first course you may bring the following items to the table: a soup tureen, a serving dish or salad bowl.
It should be noted that according to proper table etiquette if you are hosting a high-end meal you should not use charger plates. However they may be used for more informal meals with family members.

How to properly set a table? Arranging your stemware

One must never put less than two glasses on the table. You should put at least one water goblet (the biggest glass) and one stemmed wine glass.

The water goblet should be placed directly behind the middle of the plate with the wine glass slightly to the right of it.
If you are going to serve champagne at the table during the appetizer you should place the champagne flutes to the left of and slightly behind the water goblet.

Be careful not to use colored glasses for the wine as wine connoisseurs appreciate being able to assess the wine’s color before tasting it.
If you wish to decorate your table with several glasses, arrange them behind each plate starting with the largest on the left, getting gradually smaller to the right:

  • First the water goblet on the left
  • Then the red wine glass
  • Followed by the white wine glass farthest to the right

The silverware (including TB Groupe knives of course!)

How do you set a table with the proper arrangement of forks, knives and spoons? Please follow these instructions:

  • The fork should be placed to the left of the plate with the prongs pointing towards the center of the table – “À la française
  • The knife (whether it is ceramic or steel) should be placed to the right of the plate with the cutting edge of the blade pointing toward the plate
  • The soup spoon should be placed next to the knife with the rounded side facing up

The silverware is commonly arranged (never more than three items of silverware on each side of the plate) in the order in which they are to be used starting from the exterior. In other words, the silverware that is furthest from the plate will be used first.

The cheese knife should be brought out with the cheese plate and should be placed between the glasses and the plate. The cheese knife should never be at the table when the meal begins.

The dessert spoons and forks should be brought to the table with the dessert plates at the end of the meal.

TB Groupe and their precious tips on setting a formal table!

Other essential tips

Napkins: How to set a table according to dining etiquette?

The napkins should be placed to the left of the plates near the silverware. Make sure that they are well ironed. If you are planning on hosting an important event and wish to have a very elegant table setting consider using cloth napkins that match the tablecloth. Avoid using paper napkins for your special event…

It should be noted that table etiquette perfectionists frown upon arranging napkins in glasses or on top of plates.

The bread, salt and pepper, cheese and drinks

The last task in properly setting a table is to arrange the bread, spices and drinks on the table.

Place a slice of bread or mini-loafs on a small plate to the left of and behind the dinner plate. Your guests might enjoy having an assortment of breads to choose from.

The bread can also be served in one or several breadbaskets placed at regular intervals along the center of the table. The bread can be cut straight or on a diagonal in slices that are not too thick (be sure to make the size consistent).

Never place uncut bread at the table. The rules of table etiquette require that you pass the breadbasket around the table several times throughout the dinner or lunch.

If you have a large table place separate sets of salt and pepper shakers at each end of the table.

As for the wine, it should be placed in front of the head of the house or on a table close by. If you choose to serve your wine in a decanter leave the wine bottle close to the dinner table so that your guests may read the label to know what you will be serving them. Make sure that there is always a pitcher or carafe of water at the table.

A tip on serving cheeses: they should be served in odd numbers, unless you serve semi-hard to hard cheeses. Be sure to remove the rinds of semi-hard to hard cheeses, making it easier for your guests to enjoy them.

Table etiquette: cleanliness counts!

Dish cleanliness is essential to a properly set table. Dishes that have not been well cleaned, glasses with fingerprints and napkins or tablecloths with stains give your guests a terrible impression.

As for the glasses, wipe them down delicately with a thin cloth. If they give off an unpleasant smell or smell like soap try washing them by hand instead of in the dishwasher. Use a small amount of dish soap and rinse them with a mixture of water and lemon juice.

We hope that we have answered all of your questions about how to properly set a table with refinement and beauty. Don’t forget that table etiquette has very strict rules and guidelines. That doesn’t mean that you can’t let your imagination run a bit wild and add a personal touch of your own decoration ideas to your table. Feel free to leave a comment about this article on our Facebook page while you’re waiting for the next TB Groupe news article. Until next time!