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The Modern Art of Setting a Table

The Modern Art of Setting a Table

Our favorite party trick? A beautifully set table. We’d be lying if we said we’ve been longing for the days of prim etiquette and strict sets of rules, but we’ll readily admit that there is something special about a table set exactly for the occasion. If you’ve found ever yourself frantically googling where, exactly, the little spoon is supposed to go, or you can only vaguely remember a horrifying superstition about placing the knife on the wrong side of the plate, then this table setting guide is made for you. Once you know the basic elements, you can easily set the tone for any occasion. Here are a few ways we like to arrange our tableware for every occasion, sure to impress your guests every single time.


The easiest part about preparing a three-course meal is setting the table. To make a formal dinner a little more interesting, place the napkin down on the table first. Fold it in quarters with the openings consistently facing the right side. Then set the dinner plate, and on top of it the salad plate, and then follows the soup bowl on top. Place the fork at the left of the plates and a sharp knife at the right, with the blade facing in. Outside of the knife, the soup spoon. Place glasses of water and fill them halfway, with a carafe or pitcher of water on the table for easy refilling access.
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Family Dinner

For a weeknight dinner with family or close friends, keep it simple, but beautiful. Set each place with a single dinner plate and place the fork and knife on either side. Make sure to use a sharp steak knife to cut through meat dishes or crunchy vegetables and keep a butter knife near the dish and bread, if you like. Here’s another way to get a helping hand when setting the table—have kids or early guests tie napkins in a knot and place atop each plate.

Tip: If placing the napkin on top of the plate, separate the utensils, with the fork on the left and the knife on the right (facing in).
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A Simple Supper

For less formal occasions you still want to make special, you can just stick to a dinner plate and salad plate, place a tablecloth underneath and a napkin at one side. Fold the opening away from the plate and keep the fork and knife (respectively) together on top, all on the left side of the plate. Foliage and flowers aren’t just for a centerpiece—get creative and use a sprig of rosemary, lavender, or any other trimming on top of each plate.
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The Communal Table

We love a buffet table to accommodate larger crowds. Inviting your guests to help themselves encourages mingling, and it’s a great opportunity to introduce friends and mix different people together. Make sure you use a tablecloth, as this style of serving can get a little messy. Stack plates and bowls at one end of the table and set your serving bowls in the order people would eat—i.e., salad first, a few sides, and then your main course. If an eager guest arrives while you’re still setting up and inevitably asks how they can help, this is a great opportunity to put them to work by making grab-and-go silverware sets. Simply place a fork and knife side by side on a napkin folded in half and roll. Secure it with a bit of twine and a sprig of something green.

Tip: Pick your serveware ahead of time and place post-it’s in the empty bowls to map out which dishes go where—that way, you’ll be sure everything fits on one table and you’re not scrambling at the last minute.
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Photos by Nicki Sebastian