What fork do I use? Where do the wine glasses go? Why are place settings so complicated?!
I was barely 18 years old at a verrrrry fancy dinner party in Paris – we’re talking barons, baronesses from all over Europe (I didn’t even know what those were). We sat down and there was an entire silverware drawer of forks, knives and spoons lined up on both sides of my plate, like gleaming silver soldiers standing at attention.
I looked down at my infantry as the dinner courses started drifting in, thinking “you have got to be kidding!” What fork do I use?? Oh wait it’s soup, but there are three spoons and they are all different sizes?! Being a a southern Calif beach girl just out of high school I didn’t want to shame my family or the United States of America….
So I watched what everyone else was doing and learned two things:
- Nerves do wonders to heighten your survival instincts
- This really wasn’t a sadistic plot to embarrass the American girl…in fact, once I relaxed and CHUGGED my first glass of champagne, it all started to make perfect sense.
Here are my tips and insights from that day on, from my days of being a restauranteur, and now as America’s Host.
Their Place at the table.
1. Place Settings set the tone and mood of the dining experience: formal vs informal, elegant vs playful long and luxurious vs. casual and relaxed.
2. Place settings are a creative narrative for the guests: …how many forks = how many courses, each wine glass reflects a thoughtful pairing, old world china vs. classic modern = meet your host….there are countless ways to tell your story.
3. Place Settings establish expectations: The order in which the forks, knives, spoons are set creates an orderly system in which both the guest and the host know what’s to come…pace yourself if there are 4 forks, 3 spoons and 6 glasses 😉
4. Place Settings allows the host to be present: placing everything you need at the table allows the host to remain at the table without having to continuously get up for more forks, glasses, plates.
5. Place Settings are a gesture: valuing the significance of someone’s presence: …as Oprah says so well; “Love is in the details”.
1. Know the two basic formal and informal place settings and you’re golden (see above): when you’re relaxed and comfortable at the table you will have more fun!
2. Practice at home: Treat yourself to a thoughtfully set table, even if you’re dining alone and not only will it will become second nature, you will look forward to sitting at the table.
3. Think “outside in”: utensils are placed in the order in which you will use them. The outermost utensil always goes with the first course and so on…
4. Stick to the Place setting rules and you will make your guests feel at ease…no need to make guests rummage for utensils, search for an extra wine glass – keep ’em at the table having a good time!
5. Once you know the rules – you can break them! Keep things light hearted by adding your own signature or unique twist. Use a wine glass for a chilled soup or turn your forks & knives stylishly upside down on the plate.
Food is fun, meals should be too! Now there’s no need to be intimidated or anxious about how to set the table or what utensil to use…and if you do get stressed, just remember that’s desserts spelled backwards 😉
Oh and get your kids in on the action as well – one day they might be at a fancy shmancy dinner in Paris and make us proud! XO ~ L