Beyond Words

Words, Wit and Wisdom for Today's Style and Decision Makers

Setting the Stage November 17, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 10:42 pm

“Manners easily and rapidly mature into morals.”  Horace Mann

Memories of Thanksgiving as a child conjure up images of my parents’ dining room table set perfectly with a formal table cloth; my mom’s china dinnerware; crystal stemware; silver serving pieces; and all of us dressed in our “Sunday best.”  They are happy memories but I also remember being very stressed that day and anything but relaxed.  We had to wake up early to get things going and my mom expected nothing but the best of table manners during dinner.  I’m grateful for the education and, for many years, followed her traditions with my own family.  I considered it important to teach Kristen how to set a table and am hoping she’s comfortable doing so.  Lately, however, I’ve opted for a more relaxed (and fun!) Thanksgiving Day and dinner complete with TV trays and football watch parties.  Both Norman Rockwell and my mom would be mortified!


Don’t get me wrong, I do believe everyone should know the proper way to set a formal table but I also believe sometimes relaxed is the way to go.  By knowing how to set the stage and table for a formal or even informal meal, however, you can essentially paint a serving canvas for any occassion.  So, read on for my latest installment of “I like it but don’t always practice what I preach” blogs!  Even if you don’t use the guidelines for family meals, it’s good information to know when dining out.  In addition, sometimes it’s fun to jazz up a casual family dinner by simply setting the table in a formal manner.  Think about it:  paper plates and utensils look better placed properly on a table and mac and cheese never looked so good as when on a china dinner plate!


Before consulting the diagram below, here are some basic rules of thumb to remember:

“BMW” = bread, meal, water/wine.  This is an easy way to remember the order of items from left to right.  (Or, make the “okay” sign with both your left and right hand and then place your fingers facing across the table with pinkies lowest.  Your hands will make a “b,” for bread and a “d,” for drinks.)

A tip even kids can remember:  “The silverware had a fight.  The knife and spoon were RIGHT so the forks LEFT.”

Wet on the right, dry on the left.  (water, wine, coffee/tea, salad and soup utensils go on the right.  Bread and main meal utensils and napkins go on the left.)

Always place knives you are using on their corresponding plates.  Never place a used knife on the table.

Napkins stay on your lap throughout your meal.  If you leave the table for any reason, put your napkin on your chair until you get back.  Never, ever place a napkin you are using on the table.  When leaving the meal, it’s okay to nicely fold your napkin and place it down.

The proper way to eat soup is to spoon away from you and wipe the bottom of the spoon on the lip of the bowl.

Always cut your salad.

Always pass the pepper with the salt and vice versa.  Think of them as a couple.

Bread is to be torn one piece at a time, buttered one piece at a time, and eaten one piece at a time.

A white fabric table cloth will complement any formal setting.

Remember to keep centerpieces low enough so guests can see over them.

Servers will typically serve you from your right side and remove plates from your left side.

Don’t push your plate away when you are finished eating.  Instead, place your knife and fork at the top of your plate, which signals a server that you are done with that course.


I hope this helps and someday comes in handy for you.  Until then, bon appetit!







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