How To Create A Successful Table Setting for Your Event

For nearly twenty years, El Gaucho has been creating experiences for our guests’ most important and personal moments. Our team of experts has gathered a list of the most common questions received, and compiled a series of articles targeting every facet of the event planning process to help you plan a successful event.

By: Kate Arvidson, El Gaucho Portland Event Director

When hosting a dinner or event, many people find it stressful or intimidating when it comes to the actual table setting. Here are some easy steps to remember to help ensure that your table setting and event will be a success.

While there are many different cultural rules and traditions when it comes to how to properly set a table, there are some basic principles you can follow to ensure that your table is functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.

1. Linens – Choosing your linens is important when creating a soft and elegant look. Different colors or prints can be used if you have a particular theme; however, ivory works best when wanting to achieve a soft look. Remember to keep your linens freshly pressed so as to avoid visible creases or wrinkles.

2. Centerpieces – A centerpiece for the table is a fun way to add a personal touch, and can range from an elegant floral arrangement to holiday themed décor. Regardless of the centerpiece, it is important to keep it below eye level so guests can easily converse and see one another across the table. If using candles, remember to keep them unscented, as many people are sensitive to smells. In addition, you won’t want them to interfere with the wonderful aroma of the food and wine being served.

3. Place Settings – When creating each place setting, a general rule of thumb is to start from the outside and work your way in. If you think about the setting in terms of how each course arrives, it is easy to understand the purpose for each item.

Starting from the left or upper left, you will want to place your bread plate. If the bread course is served with a butter or spread, you can place a small butter knife on the plate. As a guest at a table, a great way to remember which plate is your personal bread and butter plate is to make a “b” with your left hand for “bread”. This will help you remember that your bread plate goes on the left.

If a seafood cocktail or appetizer is being served, you will place the cocktail or appetizer fork first, followed by the salad fork. After the salad fork comes the dinner fork.

For a little extra “wow” factor adding a plate charger is a nice decorative touch and can help you add a more elegant feel to your setting. The appetizer and salad course can usually be placed directly on top of the charger and then is removed before the entrée course arrives.

To the right of the plate or charger goes the knife pointing towards the charger. This knife is intended to be used for the appetizer/salad course and should be replaced with a dinner or steak knife before the entrée course arrives, or you can pre-set it to the right of the salad knife if you prefer.
After all knives, you can then place any spoons that you will need for the dinner, whether it be a soup, dessert, or coffee spoon. You can also place them as needed throughout the meal.

4. Napkin Placement and Folds – The napkin placement depends on preference and there are many different folds that can be used ranging from basic to extremely intricate. Many fine dining restaurants will place them directly on the plate/charger in a fan or triangle shape.

5. Glassware – Glassware will go above and to the right of the setting, starting with the water glass directly above the salad knife, followed by a white wine glass, if needed, and then the red wine glass. These are usually placed at an angle moving away from the setting.

When choosing glassware for your table, keep in mind the different types of wine you will be serving. For example, if serving a Cabernet Sauvignon with your entrée, you will want to have a classic Bordeaux style wine glass like this. If serving a Pinot Noir, you will use a burgundy glass.

Just like making a “b” for “bread” with your left hand to remember which side your bread plate goes, the same can be done with your drink. Make a “d” for “drink” with your right hand to help you remember which side your drink goes on. These are two things that are easy to mix up with other people’s settings when at a coursed event.

Coffee and Dessert – Coffee cups are usually brought before the dessert course, and can be placed above and to the right of the dessert plate.

6. Serving and clearing – A great tip when serving and clearing courses is that serving should always be done from the left and clearing is always done from the right. It’s like reading a book! (Left to right) Wine or beverages should always be served/poured from the right of the guest. For a formal event, it is proper to serve the ladies first, and work your way around the table clockwise.

Whether informal or formal, remember the function of each item as it pertains to the meal being served. This will help you visualize what is necessary and what isn’t. Most importantly, have fun with it; table settings don’t always have to be a stuffy affair.


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