When entertaining or planning a dinner party, it is natural that the main focus is on the food and what you will be serving your guests. However, an often overlooked part of the occasion is the setting and presentation of the table. A thoughtful table setting will create atmosphere and will enhance the experience of eating the meal you have prepared.
With so many choices of china, glassware, cutlery and table linen, it is sometimes difficult to know where to begin! Start by looking at the reason for the occasion and the type of people who will be your guests. Is it a formal affair or a casual get-together? Is there a theme or is the meal celebrating a specific occasion such as a birthday or graduation?
If you are planning a formal dinner, then bring out your best china, glasses, cutlery and linen. Use neutral tones such as white or eggshell for the crockery. Lay the table in the traditional sense, working the cutlery from the outside in: forks on the left, knives (blades facing toward the plate) and spoons on the right, placed in the order you are serving the food. Regardless of whether you are plating the food in the kitchen or serving it at the table, place a service plate in front of each setting – this anchors each guest’s table setting and creates elegance. Water glasses should be placed directly above the dinner knife, with the wine glass/es to the right of the water glass. Bread plates go to the left of the setting as do napkins (napkins can also be placed on the service plate).
If your dinner is a casual informal affair, you can afford to relax the rules and do away with tradition. Be bold and go for colour! Don’t be afraid to experiment with different textures, patterns and colours.
Centrepieces add colour and create atmosphere – take care that they are not so high that they obstruct visibility of your guests’ faces, and that they are not too large if you are planning to place serving dishes on the table. Flowers and candles are classic choices for a formal occasion, however ensure the flowers are not too heavily perfumed and candles are unscented otherwise they can fight the aromas of the meal. If your event is an informal one, the sky is the limit and you can really get creative! Add fun and liveliness with streamers, baubles, beads and trinkets. Create a natural look with leaves, twigs and pinecones. Use anything and everything to decorate your table and remember that the centrepiece does not have to be in the middle of the table and there can be more than one!
Here are a few creative table setting ideas to provide some inspiration:
Mexican: Place potted cacti or succulents on the table as a centrepiece; scatter different coloured fresh chillies around the table; put out a selection of hot sauces.
Tropical: Use banana leaves as a table runner; have a bowl of tropical fruit as a centrepiece; scatter tropical flowers such as hibiscus or frangipani over the table.
Thai or Asian: Use bamboo place mats or a batik sarong as a tablecloth; light floating candles; tie napkins with a piece of raffia; use chopsticks instead of cutlery.
Girl’s lunch: Have lots of flowers or scatter the table with rose petals; use pink coloured linen, china and even glassware.
Beach Party: Decorate the table with driftwood, starfish and shells.
Italian: Decorate the table with bunches of fresh or dried herbs, plates of olives and baskets of breadsticks; serve wine in short tumblers rather than wine glasses.