How To Set A Table That Will Impress Your Guests Every Time
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 an inviting 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.
The table settings are what you and your guests need on the table to eat with - but that doesn't mean you need to sacrifice form over function. The right table settings can set the mood for your dinner without the need for extra decor, turning your table from plain into elegant, rustic, homey or moody depending on your choices.
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 and linen tablecloths 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 protector like a table covering that offers some additional protection over a washable cotton or linen tablecloth, or a plastic tablecloth that spills can be easily cleaned up from.
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.
What size tablecloth should you use? More formal settings require a tablecloth that dangles around halfway down to the floor, while a less formal event can suffice with a smaller tablecloth that just dangles over the edge of the table. Use round tablecloths for circular or oval-shaped tables and straight-edged tablecloths for square or rectangular tables.
Once you've finalised your choice, hold it all in place using tablecloth clips so that even if your guests get animated, your table setting never will.
Placemats & coasters
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.
You can style your placemat to suit the rest of your table decor - choose a woven rattan or grass placemat and coaster set for a relaxed, beachy vibe, or look to formal black linen placemats for an elegant dining occasion.
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.
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, bowls and other servingware 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.
Drinkware & glassware
A standout dinner party needs attractive glass and drinkware to add zing when raising drinkware 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.
To finish off your place settings, use cloth napkins and napkin rings as the 'icing on the dinner party cake'. Mix and match cloth 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, serviettes or cloth napkins can be slid casually underneath the diner's fork.
Centrepieces & Accessories
Your centrepiece is, quite literally, the focal centre point 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 centrepiece or make one yourself, it should draw the eye and anchor your theme to the overall setting.
Flowers, fruit & foods
Floral centrepieces 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 centrepieces 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 the 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.
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 & candle holders
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 centrepiece 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.
Create A Stunning Tablescape With Spotlight
Ready to set the table with confidence? Check out the full range of table linen and table accessories online, where you can quickly pay and have your order home delivered in no time! Or visit your nearest Spotlight store to choose all your tableware in person.
Check out our blogs on creating an everyday tablescape, hosting high tea and dining outdoors in summer for even more table decorating ideas. And read our buying guides on servingware, drinkware and dinnerware for more info on what you need for your table!