Do you have VIP guests coming over for dinner, and you want to make an impression? You are not sure how to set your table? Since the royal court of Louis XIV, France has been a reference all over the world for the art of setting a table and serving food. A combination of tradition, elegance, and sophistication, the following rules will help you to entertain your guests like a proper “Parisian”. Set your table the French way to make an unforgettable impression.
Setting your table should be the first thing you do before you even start cooking. This way, if you run late, the beautiful decoration, lit candles… will make your guests feel welcomed and pampered.
Pick a tablecloth, and assorted napkins matching your tableware and the theme of your dinner, and make sure they are clean and perfectly ironed. Before laying your tablecloth, we recommend that you cover the table with a thick under-cloth. This will dampen the noise of plates and glasses and prevent the formation of folds on your tablecloth. The tablecloth should hang down at least 30 cm from the table top.
Distribute the plates around the table, approximately 60-70cm/23-27in apart from each other to leave sufficient space for each guest to feel comfortable. Plates must never hang over the table's edge. Do not stack more than 2 plates on top of each other (for example the main meal + starter on top). You will bring the following plates (for cheese and dessert) later. The rule is to change plates for each individual dish. If you want to display extreme sophistication, keep the plates warm to serve hot dishes.
Then comes the “tricky” cutlery. Based on a very simple rule: Facilitate the task to the guests, they are therefore arranged to accommodate the majority of guests (i.e. right-handed) and according to the order in which the dishes will arrive, starting from “outside” towards the center. Place forks on the left, tines down, tablespoons and knives and on the right, cutting edge towards the inside, and finally the cheese knife and dessert fork at the top of the plate. In any case, make sure you adapt the cutlery to what's being served – a steak knife for red meat, a fish knife and any accessories needed to eat shellfish…or snails! But never more than 3 pieces of cutlery on each side of the plate.
Disposition of glasses, above the knives, in a diagonal, just follow a logical order of size, from left to right: Water glass, then red wine glass, white wine glass. Champagne flutes, on the other hand, should be placed behind the glass of water. Crystal glasses are of course a “must”. Make sure all glasses are absolutely immaculate (wipe them if necessary with a cloth to remove dust or fingerprints).
Place the beautifully folded napkins on the plate. Find inspiration and examples of different napkins folding here. You can then either place the bread plate, or a just a piece of bread (prefer mini single bread in that case) on the left, at the top of the fork, or the piece of bread above the napkin on the plate.
Finish the setting by adding all other useful and decorative accessories:Jug of water (never a plastic bottle!), mat, salt & pepper shakers, service cutlery, flowers, candles… NB: The knife holders are normally not used for formal dinners, as the cutlery will be changed at each dish and the tablecloth will not be re-used.
Now you know the principles of how to set your table the French way. Don’t be afraid to “break the rules” sometimes, give our table a “grain de folie” (mismatched plates, glasses…) and show your creativity! Once your table is set, all you have to do is cook a perfect dinner and enjoy this moment of sharing.
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