How do I set a table that will impress dinner guests?
Nothing brings people together like food - and hosting a dinner party is one of life's true joys. Besides your guests, of course, your dining table is the hero of the dinner party. A great table setting creates atmosphere and leaves a lasting impression.
Table settings are both functional and fashionable, which means there's an endless array of choices when it comes to designing a setting that is uniquely yours. Adding creative and vibrant elements is a great way to impress your guests and make them feel special.
Let's break down the key ingredients of a successful and memorable table setting to guide your dinner party preparation.
Tablecloths & Table Runners
As soon as you've settled on a style or theme for your dinner party, you'll want to find the perfect tablecloth or table runner to set the stage. But first, what patterns or colour schemes match your theme?
For a seasonal party, you might enliven the mood with vivid reds or greens, gold or silver, or a festive pattern in your tablecloth or runner. Damask, lace or ruffled styles evoke elegance for a formal affair, and checks and solid colours are a versatile match for a variety of occasions. Bamboo, reed or fringed table runners create a more relaxed, bohemian vibe.
Coordinate your table covering with other elements of the room. For instance, you might like to match the candles and candlesticks on your dining table with those on other surfaces or in other areas. This is your chance to show off your interior design flair.
If your party is for younger diners, or if you're hosting a casual outdoor dinner, you could opt for a wipe-clean table covering that offers some additional protection.
The size of your dining room also impacts your choice of tablecloth. Bolder patterns and colours work best in a large space, as they can overwhelm and distract in a small area, whereas delicate patterns and subtler colours look great in a smaller dining room.
Once you've finalised your choice, hold it all in place using tablecloth clips so, even if your guests get animated, your table setting never will.
Taking the time to lay beautiful place settings is the sign of a considerate and accomplished host. Start with your placemats and coasters. Ensure each guest is covered, as well as any areas that may later have a shared dish placed on them.
Tableware & Cutlery
For casual or informal dining:
- The dinner plate is placed in the centre of the place setting (or on the placemat, if you are using one)
- The fork is laid to the left of the plate
- The knife and spoon go on the right side (with the sharp edge of the knife facing the plate)
- Any glasses sit in front of the plate.
For a formal occasion, the same principles as casual or informal dining apply but with the following added elements:
- If soup is being served, the soup bowl goes on the plate and the soupspoon should sit on the right
- If salad is on the menu, the salad fork sits to the left of the dinner fork
- Smaller plates for bread or salad are placed to the left of the forks, with butter on a dish where all guests can access it
- Wine or water glasses sit to the left of the plate
- Dessert forks and cups for tea or coffee can be added later in the evening once it's time to serve them.
It's wise to invest in a coordinated dinner set so your crockery always matches - whether you choose to go with the ever-flexible (and easily replaced when broken) plain white to funky florals, stylish stripes or the many other patterns available.
Tip: Remember to check if your guests are right or left-handed, as this will affect the side on which you place your cutlery.
When it's time to serve your food, you can use unique trays, platters and bowls to give your feast that extra wow-factor and emphasise your dinner theme.
Serving the whole dish and letting guests help themselves is a means for encouraging conversation through a shared experience, while also allowing you to show off gorgeous platters and arrangements - from salad bowls to cake stands to cheeseboards and more.
A standout dinner party needs attractive glass and drinkware to add zing when raising/kitchen-and-dining/drinkware/glassware for toasts. It's good to have classic champagne flutes, wine glasses and water glasses laid out, or you can opt for more colourful varieties to enhance the dominant shade of your theme. Coloured glasses are also a fantastic way to impart a sense of celebration.
For an outside dinner, an old-fashioned drink dispenser can give your gathering a funky flair, and melamine tableware is a very popular choice for its durability and versatility.
To finish off your place settings, use napkins and napkin rings as the 'icing on the dinner party cake'. Mix and match napkins and rings with placemats and coasters to create a cohesive look or a purposeful, yet stylish, pattern and colour clash. An artistically folded napkin is usually laid on top of the dinner plate or, for less formal occasions, napkins can be slid casually underneath the diner's fork.
Your centerpiece is, quite literally, the focal centrepoint of your table setting and your dinner party theme, which means it's the chance to really let your creativity shine. Whether you buy a centerpiece or make one yourself, it should draw the eye and anchor your theme to the overall setting.
Flowers, Fruit & Foods
Floral centerpieces are a popular choice, with both real and artificial flowers working equally well. You might bunch them in the middle of the dining setting, or run them along the length of the table entwining them in vines and foliage. Branches from the garden can also be transformed into stunning centerpieces with just a bit of spray paint. But, if you want something simple, you really can't go wrong with a bouquet of fresh, seasonal blooms.
An edible centrepiece could be the attractive talking point for your dinner party you're looking for (while also reducing your clean-up!). Citrus fruits, cheeses and berries can be easily turned into wreaths - nested in a glass bowl or trailed down the table - offering inviting aromas, nibbles and interesting ornamentation to your gathering.
Tip: Whatever you opt for with your centrepiece, make sure it isn't too high so all your guests can see each other and converse over the table.
Candles and candle holders are a decorative, yet classic addition, to any table, and they work beautifully indoors or outdoors, especially when the sun goes down. You might like to use them to spotlight your centerpiece or any special dishes, or to add a touch of romance to individual place settings.
Personal touches are the best way to ensure your dinner party theme is something to remember, and one that belongs to you. Use paper or cards to create invitations and menus that build anticipation. Consider using personalised nameplates too. It might not seem like much but it's the little details that will make your dinner party a memorable one.
Just make sure you set your table well before your guests arrive. Then it's time to get ready, relax and let the conversation and drinks flow.