Glazed And Confused- How Do I Set A Perfect Table?

It is asked in a subtle- wait for the moment is right- whisper in our dinnerware expert’s ear sort of way. Lifestyles have changed, and formal dinners are not as pervasive as they used to be, while soirées at home are on the rise! So if you are a tad shaky on the basics since you are too busy multi-tasking through your daily lives and haven’t got time to think about hosting – we’re with you! Just copy this post address and file it to your desktop for when the time is right, or mail it to yourself- Title: Entertaining, Ashley Style!

This is the second installment in the series Glazed And Confused, our opportunity to answer your most pressing questions. Remember, once you’ve got this down it’s easy to break the rules and add a bit of your own je ne c’est quoi to the table.

THE DINNERWARE: There are several styles of dinner service depending on the formality of your event. Our favorite at William Ashley (and the one we feel encourages your own tablescaping creativity) is a combination of pre-plated and family style (English casual), which allows you to spend most of your time at the table enjoying the evening with your guests. The first course can be pre-plated in the kitchen and set in front of friends and family prior to being seated. The first course plate is removed and the main course is brought out in serving pieces and placed in the center of the table, allowing guests to help themselves. The service plate (aka charger) is removed after the main course and now it’s time for dessert! We prefer dessert utensils placed on the table from the beginning so there’s less fuss following dinner, leaving only dessert plates (and cups and saucers) to be brought out for the dessert course. Your table will look like the sketch below if you are going all out.

Jackie’s tip: Break out the service plates! Never leave your guests without a plate in front of them. Etiquette dictates the space before the guest must always hold a plate.

THE FLATWARE: Your menu dictates your selection of cutlery. You are going to set your table from the inside out and eat working from the outside in. (Image above)

Jackie’s tip: Need multiple knives for different courses but only have one? Use a knife rest to place your knife between courses and protect that gorgeous table(cloth).

THE STEMWARE: To the right, above your knives, is where the glasses are placed. The water glass should stand above the dinner knife and the wine stem to the right to form a diagonal line – down and to the right. You may have a red and a white wine glass if different wines are being served with each course. If Champagne is in order, the flute will sit above and behind the other glasses, forming a triangle.

DESSERT: You will remove everything but the water glass and wine/champagne stems before this course is served. Your coffee/tea cup will sit just below your crystal with a teaspoon (or demitasse spoon if it is espresso) to the right. Your dessert plate will take center stage.

Jackie’s tip: Now is your chance to switch it up and bring in a whole new element of design to your table with a completely different pattern. Break out your family heirlooms including that beautiful silver tea set!

LINENS & ACCESSORIES: Napkin holders are a fun item to usher in a whimsical note or that little hint of bling. If you are going by the book, a formal table is dressed with a crisp white linen tablecloth. But- hey- you have that beautiful wooden table to show off, no? This is where the magic of a great placemat can help to bring colour and texture to your tablescape. Also, if you are looking to impress, individual salt and pepper shakers placed on the upper right hand side of your settings and place card holders located above the desert utensils, give a formal, finishing, touch.

FLORALS AND CANDLES: If you have a wonderfully lush bouquet that looks amazing on your table, we say go for it! But, as soon as your guests sit down, remove it so that there is always an easy sightline between you and your loved ones (if you can’t part with them, no problem, it’s your party!). We tend to prefer smaller more intimate bunches of flowers to remain if you want that garden pop. To add ambiance, candles and candelabras are recommended – either very tall- or short and neat- for the same reason as above. Oodles of votives cast a lovely soft light that your guests will appreciate. If you have a statement candelabra, this is the time to show it off. Remember, your table is a fluid art piece. It is your finished painting to be un-painted and re-worked time and time again.