Hosting a dinner party can raise the stress levels of even the calmest of cooks, especially when it comes to navigating the waters of table settings and seating arrangements. While we often pay attention to the food and wine we will be serving, extras such as napkins, chilled water and even the music playlist are often left to the last minute. But these are crucial elements to creating a dinner party to remember.
Timing make sure you have set the table before your guests arrive. If you’re running late, it’s better to still be putting finishing touches in the kitchen, which excites people and opens appetites, rather than running around setting the table, which gives an impression of chaos and disorganisation and would spoil the effect of the pretty table if it’s not finished before they arrive. It adds unnecessary stress to the party, while finishing touches on food prep doesn’t.
Think of a theme that brings the style of the table together. Spacing is important; it’s important to have enough space between people that you can move your elbows and get in and out, but equally it’s important to have people close enough to each other that it would feel intimate and convivial, to encourage conversation. Even before the food is out, it’s important to make sure each seat is appealing. Consider using a charger, and don’t forget the etiquette of removing the charger before serving desserts.
Use a tablecloth if you can. It adds a sense of occasion and there is nothing more glamorous than pure white freshly ironed linen. Make sure cutlery is sparkling clean. It doesn’t have to be posh, as long as you can see your face in it. Don’t overwhelm your guests with complicated table settings. Too many knives and forks make people feel uncomfortable.
Keep flower arrangements simple and low lying, so guests can see each other. Don’t use scented candles, as they can intefere with the more important aroma of the food. Don’t overcrowd the table, simple is best. Ensure your dining chairs are comfortable, there’s nothing worse than having to fidget through a dinner party on a hard chair.
Pour someone else’s glass: you are only allowed to pour the glass of the person to your left. You can’t top up your own glass and you can’t let the person to your left go thirsty. Think of the right music playlist to play in the background. It needs to be upbeat to transmit the energy, but equally not too loud or invasive or dancey to make it feel out of place or overwhelming.
Don’t shy away from traditions and make sure you place silverware in the order you will use it; the diner should work from the outside in. Accompanying the silverware should be pressed and folded napkins and these should be placed to the left of the plate.
It’s important to introduce the dishes you are serving; and if there’s a story around them, so much the better. It brings people together and also brings the focus back on the food, which will make the dinner more memorable. Glassware sits at the top right of the plate with your water glass placed at the front followed by your white wine glass for the first course, and then the red wine glass.