I am pleased to share a guest post by my beautiful friend, Dare Felchlin. If you are lucky enough to have been invited to one of Dare’s dinner parties, you know that she is an incredibly gracious hostess, with a keen attention to the most minuscule details. While I have mastered many entertaining attributes, setting the table is not one of them. Thanks to Dare’s post below, we will all be privy to the most refined points of place settings. xx tt
Dare Felchlin, courtesy of Drew Altizer
My father is what many call a classicist. He came of age during World War II, and has held on to the music, manners and style that came with that epic era. As such, I too feel a connection with those more elegant times and love dressing up, drinking a vodka gimlet and listening to the crooning voice of Frank Sinatra.
I have also learned quite a bit about manners and presentation growing up in such a household. We always dressed when coming in to the City or for an airplane trip - I didn’t even own a pair of sweat pants until college! But, this foundation certainly taught me how to behave in social settings, and more importantly how to set the perfect table. It is something that I have taken for granted over the years, but now realize what an important skill it is. So, I share with you everything from the most basic setting, to finger bowls, and the in-between.
I. THE BASIC TABLE SETTING
Your most basic table setting should have from left to right: a smaller (salad) fork and a bigger (dinner) fork placed on top of your napkin on the left hand side. On the right should be the knife (facing in towards the plate) and then the spoon. Your various water and wine glasses are placed at the upper right hand corner, above the knife and spoon. Most meals at home these days do not require a salad fork or spoon but it is still proper to set them.
I came up with a story when I was young to help remind my friends and myself this setting, and it still sits with me today. The forks are the “bad guys” and they sit on a raft as the plate in the middle is “water.“ The knife is the “knight” that is protecting the spoon, the “princess.” They are on the side with the water glass which is their “castle or tower.” While it is not elaborate or elegant story, it did help a few little girls who loved their fairy tales!
II. ADDITIONAL SILVERWARE
Now, the table setting can become more complex with the addition of soup spoons, seafood forks, fish and meat knives. With this in mind, it is best to go with the advice in the movie Pretty Woman, and start outside and continue in. For example, if you are beginning with a shrimp or crab cocktail and have a seafood fork, place it on the far left of the other two forks.
If you are out at a restaurant, the same etiquette will apply, although the fork will be brought to you after you order. An exception to this rule is the butter knife, which is always placed on top of the bread plate, to the left of the place setting. In many old clubs in the city, I have seen settings complete with all knives, forks and spoons, and they are replenished or exchanged as dictated throughout your meal. For your home this is unnecessary, and you should set the table with those additions, depending on what you will be serving.
III. ELEGANT EXTRAS
There are two final elements for the table that I must include in this lesson. The first being of use more often in our daily lives, and the second will bring you back to that more elegant era. If you are planning on serving dessert after dinner, whether it be fruit or a sumptuous chocolate cake, you should always set the table with a dessert spoon and fork. They are placed horizontally above the plate, with the fork handle facing left, and the spoon above the fork with the handle facing right. Even if your dessert only requires a fork to be consumed, you should always use both as the spoon can assist with ice creams and sauces.
Now, for those that are interested in entertaining in the utmost style, you may include a finger bowl before the dessert course. It should be a shallow goblet filled with warm water and a lemon slice, and placed on top of a doily on the plate. No utensils are used, but the guest should pick up the finger bowl and the doily, place them off to left, and then delicately dip their fingers into the bowl.
You may gently wipe your mouth with your fingers and then use your napkin to dry, but do not dip your napkin into the finger bowl or drink from it! While finger bowls are a tradition you rarely see these days, it can be a fun way to impress your guests and infuse some class. All while dining in black tie and sipping martinis, of course!
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