Thanksgiving is the time of the year when we think of gathering with family and friends to give thanks over a big meal complete with turkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes…etc. The service of this meal varies greatly and today…most all ways of serving are acceptable from the very casual style of serving your own plate, to the buffet, to the more formal.
Whatever your preference, here are some tips for the place-mat map.
For a more formal meal, a white damask table cloth is considered more formal. For a more casual meal a colored cloth or place-mats are appropriate. If you use place-mats, the place-mat should be one inch in from the edge of the table and the plate centered on the mat. If a cloth is used, the dinner plate is one inch in from the edge of the table.
The distance, if possible, between place settings should be approximately 18 inches from center of one plate to the center of the one next to it. This insures ample room for each person, whether he/she is right or left handed.
The dinner plate is placed at the center of the setting and all items are arranged around it. Remember any other food plates other than soup will be on the left side of the dinner plate…bread, salad, etc.
The forks are placed to the left of the dinner plate. If you are having just two courses…salad and dinner, the dinner fork is closest to the dinner plate and to its left is the salad fork. Just remember the word left has four letters and so does the word fork.
The dinner knife is placed next to the plate on the right side, with the sharp side facing in towards the plate. To the right of the knife is the dessert spoon (if applicable) and to the right of that is the soup spoon, (if applicable). Just remember the words knife and spoon have five letters so does the word right.
The general rule with silver is to start on the outside and work your way inward “in-kind”. This is why the dessert spoon is closer to the plate than the soup spoon, but not right next to the plate. In-kind means the forks go with the forks, the knives go with the knives and the spoons go with the spoons and as spoons go, soup is served before dessert. So, the soup spoon is on the outside or to the right of the dessert spoon.
The dessert fork and spoon can also be situated above the dinner plate or even accompany the dessert. I suggest however, you place it on the table when you set it, as it is easier for the host/hostess later.
The glasses are positioned above the knife and spoons, on the right side of the place setting. This may just be a water or iced tea glass and in some cases a wine glass.
For the more formal meal, cloth napkins are suitable. The napkin can be located on the center of the plate, if there is no soup served. The napkin can also be festively set in the glass or it can be folded to the left of the forks. The napkin placement is not actually under the forks, but rather to the left of the forks.
Place cards may be a fun addition. If it is family and friends use a variation away from the more formal Mr./Ms., with just first names being used. Cards are placed above the dinner plate or on the center of the plate on the napkin.
As you decorate your table for the holiday…remember the best decorations for any table are the people sitting at it. Correctly setting the table sets the stage and shows respect for those with which you choose in sharing the day.
Cynthia Grosso is co-owner of DesignRefined and the owner of The Charleston School of Protocol and Etiquette, which specializes in helping people handle life’s events and changes with style, polish and confidence.