We should follow certain rules in order to lay the table properly, putting all the elements that compose it in the right place.
Size and space. The table should be adjusted in size to the number of table invitees present. Everyone should be able to move freely and easily. Among hosts’ bad manners we can included the bad habit that force guests to eat in a tiny space, sandwiched between two other people and prevented to do the most basic movements.
At the same time, however, do not set too large a table if the number of guests is small. The distance between them could prevent conversation, with the risk of not offering an atmosphere of conviviality, the key for a successful evening.
Space is a key factor and should be considered with great care. It is advisable to leave at least 30-40 cm between one plate and another.
Dinnerware. Dinner plates should be placed at 2-3 cm from the edge of the table. You can stack one on top of the other, but never more than three, excluding the underplate. As a rule, place an underplate, then a dinner/lunch plate (main course) on it and last a soup/pasta bowl (first course), a cup for consommé or a saucer for hors-d’oeuvre.
All the other plates (for fruit, dessert and salad) must be arranged only when necessary.
The bread plate lays above the left side of the dishes.
Flatware. As for plates, cutlery should be placed at 2-3 cm from the edge of the table. Place it on the two sides of the main plates in this order:
On the right: the dinner knife with the blade facing the plate and the dinner spoon.
On the left: the forks (with prongs upward).
Top: the fruit/dessert fork and spoon must be placed horizontally. The handle of the spoon should be placed on the right, while the handle of the fork on the left.
It is expected to place on the table the entire necessary cutlery that you are going to use during the meal, an exception could be made for dessert cutlery. You should also consider the possible – and advisable – changes of cutlery between one course and the other.
To avoid mistakes, remember that the farthest cutlery from the plate will be the first to be used.
The only exception: oyster fork should be placed at the right side of the dish.
Glassware. We must set all glassware in the upper right side of the plate. The order of arrangement should be, from left to right, the following:
Wine glass (for red and white)
Champagne flute. It should be set behind the water goblet, thus avoiding alignment.
Other kinds of glasses (for whiskey or spirits) must be brought to the table only if necessary
The hosts occupy seats at the heads of the table or in the case of a round table they seat opposite to each other.
Important guests seat next to hosts, following these rules.
The right side of the lady of the house must be occupied by:
The eldest or most important man.
The foreign or new guest (the objective is to involve him as much as possible).
The right side of the master of the house must be occupied by:
The eldest or most important woman.
If guests are similar in age and importance, then we must consider the degree of intimacy they have with hosts, the less intimate they are the closer they should seat near the householders.
When assigning seats we must try to keep alternating men and women. In case it’s not possible, it is preferable to put two men close rather than two women.
When drawing up the guests list, the hostess should try to invite the same number of men and women.
Since the purpose of the lunch is also to create and bond social relationships, guests should be placed in order to facilitate conversation between all people invited. For this reason it is better to split married couples (but not the engaged couples, they must remain close), with husband and wife facing each other, or diagonally.
A separate table should be prepared for children. If not possible, they must be kept together.
In the absence of placeholders, you must wait for the lady of the house to assign each guest’s place. In any case, before sitting down we must wait permission from the lady of the house to be seated.
In an informal dinner and with friends it is not required to follow these rules.
Ideally, we should invite people whom we know can match for taste, temperament, interests, and culture with the other guests. Better to avoid calling people that could generate tension or that are in conflict with other guests.
If a guest, with an un-friendly gesture, presents himself/herself with an unexpected person, the lady of the house must accept and adapt.
Refusing to accept the newcomer would be a very impolite.
SUSIE WILSON MODERN DAY ETIQUETTE & FINISHING EXPERT DIRECTOR OF ANTOINETTE CHAMPAGNE FINISHING SCHOOL, MELBOURNE With a highly professional and direct approach to her topics, Susie is dedicated in providing her clients with the most up-to- date etiquette training relevant to todays’ modern society.