Be the perfect hostess with our comprehensive guide to table setting etiquette and learn how to set a table properly.
Every memorable Christmas feast begins with a wonderful tablescape. From the elegant place settings to the thoughtful arrangement of seats, the amount of preparation made is a sign of how much the host appreciates the presence of friends and family during this special occasion.
Knowing how to properly set a table and where to seat guests is the foundation of a great dinner party, and it is a skill that takes both time and practice to perfect. The art of setting a formal dinner table goes well beyond simply putting together flatware and china; it's about creating an atmosphere where guests can truly enjoy each other's company during the holiday season.
Our easy-to-follow guide to Christmas table settings will teach you all of the fundamentals you'll need to know to prepare a formal holiday table with a touch of elegance.
The Perfect Holiday Dinner Table: Place Settings
Choosing the appropriate tableware for your dinner courses and selecting table accents that signify your style help create an impeccable holiday ambiance.Whether you are going for a wintry white table scape with a magnificent ice sculpture for your centerpiece, or an opulent red and gold motif to give your place settings a regal touch, your guests will appreciate the effort that goes into putting together a wonderful holiday table.
What You Need for Formal Place Settings
- Tablecloth - Primarily used to protect the surface of your table against scratching and spills, this linen can also add to the overall appeal of your dinner table.
- Placemat - Aside from preventing damage to your table's surface, placemats are also used to combine the different elements of your place setting together.
- Cloth napkin - This soft, square piece of fabric is dabbed gently on the mouth and used to keep the hands clean and dry while eating. Be sure to use only cloth napkins for formal dinners - no paper napkins allowed!
- Service place - The larger service plate acts as the landing spot for both the salad plate and the soup bowl. It is used throughout the meal until the dinner entrée is served on the dinner plate, at which point the service plate should be removed from the table.
- Dinner plate - This holds the main entrée and is brought in by the server.
- Soup bowl or soup plate - This specific china is used for soups with a thicker consistency.
- Consommé or bouillon cup on a saucer - This is a small ear-handled bowl used for clear soups. It is designed to allow the soup to be sipped.
- Salad plate - This plate may be set on top of the service plate if the salad is served before the main entrée; it may also be brought in separately after the main entrée.
- Bread and butter plate - Also known as a quarter plate or side plate, this china is used when dinner rolls are served.
- Dessert plate - This small plate is brought in when dessert is served.
- Cup and saucer - Designed for coffee or tea, the cup and saucer should be placed in front of the white wineglass once dessert is served.
- Forks - Often seen in pairs at the start of the meal, the smaller of the two is the salad fork and the larger is the dinner fork, which is used in conjunction with the dinner knife. If fish will be served, it is necessary to provide a fish fork. Likewise, an oyster fork is to be used if oysters, clams, or shrimp will be offered. The dessert fork or cake fork, on the other hand, may be brought in as the last meal is served, or set with the dessert spoon perpendicular to the top edge of the service plate.
- Knives - The dinner knife is used for slicing tender meats and all other food that cannot be sliced with a fork. The fish knife is used for filleting the soft flesh of fish. If the salad is served separately, a salad knife may be provided along with the salad fork. If the salad is served with the main entrée, the dinner knife may be used in place of the salad knife.
- Spoons - The dinner spoon, soup spoon, and teaspoon are placed to the right of the knives. Oval soup spoons can pick up morsels of food, while round soup spoons hold liquids better. The dessert spoon is either brought in before the last course is served, or placed with the dessert fork along the top edge of the service plate.
- White wine glass - The white wine glass features a longer stem and is used for white wine paired with seafood.
- Red wine glass - The red wine glass features a larger bud with a shorter stem and is used for red wine paired with meat.
- Water globlet - The water goblet is the largest of the glassware as it has a wider mouth and thicker stem than wineglasses.
- Champagne flute or tulip - The champagne flute is a tall, slender glass traditionally placed next to the water goblet.
Holiday Table Decorations
For a more luxurious dining experience, try adding a few accents to your place settings to draw your guests' attention to the exquisite meal at hand. These decorative pieces will help turn your holiday dinner into an unforgettable experience for family and friends alike.
- Flower arrangements - Accent your holiday table with fresh blooms, but make sure to choose flowers that don't diffuse any strong fragrance. The scent can clash with the aroma of the food. Flower arrangements are also excellent vertical decorations for your table. Avoid placing them above eye level to prevent blocking guests seated across each other.
- Fruits and fruit bowls - If you prefer to place horizontal decorations, try arranging fruits along the length of the dinner table for an elegant yet unique way to bring harvest colors to your tablescape.
- Candles - Candles are often used during formal occasions to signify the importance of the celebration. Candles are perfect for adding an immediate feeling of warmth to any room, and easily heighten the romantic feel of any type of gathering.
- Sculptures - To take your dinner party from 'great' to 'grand,' consider using an ice sculpture to serve as a crystalline centerpiece of your dinner table.
How to Set a Formal Dinner Table
After choosing the right elements for your holiday tablescape, it is now time to arrange each cover or place setting. Remember that a proper place setting requires the right flatware, glass, china, and linen, and should span 15 to 24 inches to allow enough elbowroom for each guest to move comfortably when seated.
1. Ensure that the edges of the tablecloth hang evenly on the sides.
2. When the tablecloth has been set, place the larger decorations of your centerpiece, such as flower arrangements or candelabra, in the middle of the table. Keep in mind these decorations will serve as the focal point of the dining room.
3. Add in the smaller decorations, such as tea lights or candlesticks, to your tablescape.
4. Set the placemats half an inch from the edge of the table.
5. Position the service plate at the center of the placemat and about an inch away from the edge of the table.
6. Set the salad plate or soup bowl on top of the service plate.
7. Fold the cloth napkin according to your desired pattern and set it in the middle of the soup bowl. You can also set the napkin on the left side, but always make sure it is easily accessible.
8. Begin arranging the silverware by placing the larger utensils in the innermost areas first, and working your way out. Remember to align the lower edges of the utensils with the bottom rim of the service plate, about an inch away from the edge of the table.
9. Set the dinner fork on the left side of the plate and the dinner knife on the right. Ensure that the sharp edge of the knife is turned toward the plate.
10. If you will be serving fish, place the fish knife to the right of the dinner knife. Also turn the sharp edge of the knife toward the plate.
11. Set the teaspoon to the right of the knives then place the dinner spoon next to the teaspoon. Place the soup spoon to the right of the dinner spoon.
12. If you will be serving other seafood, such as shrimp or oysters, nestle the oyster fork in the bowl of the soup spoon (the oyster fork is the only fork that should be placed on the right side).
13. Place the fish fork or salad fork to the left of the dinner fork. If the fish will be served first, the fish fork should be placed the furthest to the left. If the salad will be served first, the salad fork should be the outermost utensil.
14. If you will be serving dinner rolls on a bread plate, set the dish in the upper left corner of the placemat, just above the forks. Place the butter knife diagonally on the bread plate with the handle on the right side and the blade pointed down.
15. When arranging glassware, place the glass for the red wine directly above the dinner knife. To the left of the red wineglass is the water goblet; to the right, the white wineglass. Next to the water goblet is the champagne flute.
16. When dessert is served, place the coffee cup and saucer in front of the wine glasses.
17. Place the dessert fork along the top edge of the service plate, with the tines pointed toward the glasses.
18. Set the dessert spoon parallel to the dessert fork, with the bowl of the spoon pointed in the opposite direction.
19. Have salt and pepper ready in a cruet set or in salt and pepper shakers. You may also use a salt cellar, which is a small container with a tiny spoon. One or two sets will suffice. If individual salt and pepper shakers will be provided, set them above the dinner fork.
20. When each place setting is complete, don't forget to set a beautiful place card with the name of your guest in the upper left corner of the placemat or in the middle of the china.
The Perfect Holiday Atmosphere: How to Create a Seating Arrangement for a Dinner Party
By determining the proper seating arrangement, you can help to group your guests according to their common interests or unique personalities. Creating a proper seating arrangement based on your own knowledge of your dinner guests will help promote interaction between guests, as well as keep a jovial and effervescent atmosphere throughout the evening.
Guests of Honor
Guests of honor are those who belong to a specific place of value in the family. They can be elderly guests, guests with a distinguished career or other important achievement, and those who are celebrating a milestone, such as a promotion or special anniversary, that year.
Guests with Shared Interests
People with similar interests are often seated together in social gatherings. This is a great way for the hosts and guests to start conversations and make an impression on each other.
Guests with Unique Personalities
Guests who love striking up a conversation should be seated with those who enjoy listening to other people's ideas. Avoid seating together two people who might end up competing with each other for talking-time and attention. Discovering the characteristics and tendencies of your guests is a great way to learn about how and whom they will interact with best.
How to Seat Guests at a Formal Dinner
Use of Place Cards
To avoid confusion,when expecting more than six people to attend your dinner party, you should place name cards at each cover to inform guests of where they should be seated.
Place of Honor
The right side of the host is considered the place of honor at the table. The host is to assist the lady to his right in seating before he himself takes his seat. All gentlemen are to do the same with the ladies to their right.The hosts and the guest of honor may sit on opposite ends of the table.
- If there are two hosts, each host should take a seat at opposite ends of the table. This is to allow both to socialize with all of the guests. The hosts should ensure that their guests are happy and entertained.
- If possible, arrange the guests in an alternating male-female-male-female pattern. This, however, is not a hard and fast rule. The important thing about the arrangement is that guests should be able to mingle with people they might not often meet in everyday settings.
- Seat married couples across each other or at different tables. Since they already spend most of their time together, the setup should give them the chance to interact with other people. Newlyweds and dating couples, however, are often seated next to each other.
- Always place guests where they will feel most comfortable. Take note of elderly guests or those with particular needs and accommodate their requests.
Holiday Dinner Tables that Inspire
Traditional Table Settings
Infuse timeless elegance into your dinner party by using a more traditional design for your tablescape. In this place setting, the Christmas colors red, green, and yellow are made prominent in the selection of glassware, placemats, napkins, and ornaments. While there may not be any tablecloth, the red placemats and napkins complement the varnished wood surface of the table, while also protecting it from any hot food or liquid that may be served. The warm ambient lighting adds to the appetizing look of this setting.
Rustic Table Settings
Create an idyllic country-style feast with this simple yet charming table scape that combines a dried foliage centerpiece with rustic orange and yellow berry highlights. With simple acorn embellishments in each dish, this place setting focuses on the earthiness of the design. The glassware and white china exude simple elegance, while the red placemats allow the tableware to stand out.
Contemporary Table Settings
The perfect fusion of style and functionality, this contemporary table features minimalist elegance that allows for an uncluttered view across the table. The blue and etched crystal glasses are both decorative and functional, while the silver napkin ring and silvery pine complete the table's holiday feel. The soothing color scheme created by the white tablecloth and blue glasses give you a modern vision of a wintry Christmas.