For A Fancy-Pants Menu
The most important part of the table for an elegant, three-course menu is the place setting. Make sure that, from the start, everyone has the utensils and extras they need to get through all three courses. This will ensure they can relax and simply enjoy the food and company. In turn, it ensures you can focus on keeping wine glasses full!
Here’s what the setting looks like at each seat, from left to right:
bread and butter plate
folded napkin (with décor, name card, or printed menu, if you like!)
Directly above the place setting:
water glass (pre-pour chilled water (no ice) right before your guests settle in at the table)
red wine glass
white wine glass
Once each setting is in order, the rest is easy!
Butter needs to be somewhere on the table. Try to situate a pad or more in reach of every two guests. Ditto for salt and pepper.
If you decide to dress up the table with décor, just remember to keep it in check. Guests should be able to see each other across the table – how else will they be able to gab about how fantastic the food is?!
Details, Details …
Glasses are placed strategically to make beverage refills smooth and without splashes. The tallest glasses are set behind the shorter glasses so that you never need to pour over a tall glass.
The flatware is set so that guests work their way from the outside, in. The salad fork and knife should be whisked away with the salad plate; entree flatware, when guests are finished feasting on the main course.
Everything vital to the end of the meal is at the top of the setting: dessert fork and teaspoon. At my events, I prefer to bring out coffee, including cups and saucers, before dessert is served. Pre-setting coffee cups speeds up service, but in my opinion, unnecessarily crowds the table.
When it comes to plates, less is more. Generally speaking, the setting just discussed should be used if you’re serving guests straight from the kitchen. If you prefer a family-style meal, where the serving dishes are on the table, you can pre-set the plates. Even then, I would only put one out at a time and clear/replace as needed; too many plates can cause confusion and clutter a pretty table. Chargers can be used as decoration, but should be removed before the meal is served.
For the nitty-gritty on plates, remember that, generally, for the first course and dessert, a 10-inch plate is standard. For the entree, a 12-inch plate is fitting. In the catering world, if you want to use a fancy plate (shape or color), it’s usually only for dessert; we tend to use white porcelain for the majority of our plates – most chefs like a simple white backdrop for their creations.
The Casual, Easy-To-Please Table
There’s nothing too complicated about setting a casual dining table: take the fundamentals of the fancy table, pare it down to what’s essential for your menu, then throw caution to the wind!
Mix and match your glassware and china. Skew the table linen. Scatter candles around the table. Add flowers! Be an artist! Have a blast!
- Elizabeth Fox, LA-based catering manager & epicurean extraordinaire