Table setting. Table setting (laying a table) or place setting refers to the way to set a table with tableware—such as eating utensils and for serving and eating. The arrangement for a single diner is called a place setting. As a food consultant and food developer working across Leicester and the whole of the UK, I explain some of the most popular table settings used across the globe.
Traditional Table Settings
When you lay a table you are creating place settings. This refers to the entire table set up and includes the glassware and cutlery and how each element is placed on the table. Table settings vary dramatically across different cultures and have altered significantly across time. In many homes, traditional table settings are used but each private home, restaurant or hotel may decide to do it their own way. One thing to note is that regardless of the table setting, the first guest is always served to the right if the host.
French Table Settings
With up to 3 guests, dishes are placed on the guest table. The main dish is placed before the guest expected to be served first. If there’s 4 or more guests, a cart otherwise known as a gueridon is used.
Formal Table Settings
In formal table settings, symmetry is essential. Symmetry in terms of candlesticks, place settings equally spread around the table, silverware lined up and the use of the invisible baseline for the silverware.
The table should not be overcrowded. Instead it should be effortless in terms of decoration and style.
In terms of utensils, these should be placed around 30mm from the edge of the table. All should be placed on the same invisible baseline or on the same invisible median. When it comes to eating, the diner will use the utensils from the outermost position first and then make their way inwards. Starting with the soup spoon followed by the salad fork, the dinner fork and dinner knife depending on the courses of the meal. When it comes to the knives, they are always placed with the sharp edge pointing towards the plate.
Glassware is placed an inch above the knives and will always be placed in order of use; white wine, red wine, dessert wine and water. As a general rule of thumb, no more than three silverware is ever placed on the table. That said, there’s an exception when an oyster fork is used in addition to the other forks. Liquid should always be served from the right, be it water, wine or tea! Also as most people are right-handed, sugar and milk should be served from the left.
If more than three course are planning on being served before pudding, then the cutlery for the fourth and fifth courses is brought in with the food. Likewise, the salad fork and knife might be brought out when this course is served.
With desserts, cutlery should be used. Pudding requires the use of a fork and spoon in instances of a pudding and custard, for example. Cheese is also classified as a dessert.
Russian Place Settings
The place setting (known as a cover) for each guest includes service plate, all necessary cutlery except those required for dessert, and stemmed glasses for water, wines and champagne.
Atop the service plate is a rolled napkin, and atop that is a place card. Above the plate is a salt cellar, nut dish and a menu. The cutlery to the right of the service plate are, from outside in:
oyster fork, soup spoon, fish knife, small knife, fish knife, large knife.
In terms of seating, guests are seated according to their place cards. Once seated they should unravel their napkin and place on their lap. Another view maintains that the napkin is only to be removed once the host/hostess has removed theirs. In the same manner, the host is first to begin eating with the guests then following on. In the Russian table setting, the host will offer to serve the guest either side his or herself.
If there’s more than 3 glasses (used in a flower shape arrangement for example), it is important to put the glasses in an anti-clockwise direction.
Directly before dessert, generally everything is removed from the place setting (except if there was any sherry, port or pudding wines) but the wine and water glasses remain.
American Table Settings
Breakfast and lunch are similar settings whereas dinner involves more courses and as such, more silverware. Knifes are placed with the blades facing inwards on the right and spoons and forks are placed on the left and right side.
At any one time, there should be no more than three flatware on each side of the plate. A service plate may be included and a bread and lobster plate above the fork to the left hand side. The butter knife should be placed at a right angle or parallel to the forks.
Wine glasses and goblets are placed to the top right in a triangle. If tea or coffee is requested during the meal you can place a tea or coffee cup underneath the glasses (optional). Tablecloths are typically used.