5 Steps to Perfect Table Settings for the Holidays and Beyond

The Holidays are coming!  The Holidays are coming!  And besides looking at all the beautiful, creative, and festive decorations there’s one thing on everyone’s minds (or stomachs, really).

Food… it’s all about the FOOD!  T’is the season to EAT!  Let’s do it in style with beautiful, unique table settings – any and every time!

I know that you’re thinking, “Nikki, ain’t nobody got time to set the perfect table!  Can’t I just put some paper plates out on the counter and keep it moving?”

No.  The answer is NO.

Life is short.  If you are not willing to make any day a special occasion, then don’t make special occasions into any regular ol’ day.  It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.  But before we dig in, let’s put first things first and start with this:

3 key pieces of ANY table setting

(no table can be set without these)

1.  Start with simple white dishes.

Let’s be honest, you can never go wrong with classic white dinnerware.

It’s not boring, it’s classic and elegant. AND you can build anything off of a white base.  That’s the key to easily changing up any look for any season, any occasion.

Plus, white doesn’t have to be just “plain” white.  Take a look at these options from my own stash:

Royal Doulton

Gordon Ramsay by Royal Doulton

These are my “everyday whites”.  They are plain white decorated with embossed circles – not so “plain” at all.  Ever notice how chefs know the right kind of dish to use to show off the food? Those circles are meant to “draw the eye” toward the food.

There's design in everything.Click To Tweet

We use them whenever we are having dinner in the actual “formal” dining room, except on the occasions when the next 2 get used.

Royal Palm by Crown Ming

Here’s the Crown Ming China.  These are the real deal, hold a lot of sentimental value for me (thanks to my lovely sister), and are definitely not my everyday whites.    My grandmother always says “if you’ve got it, use it” so that’s what I try to do.  I’ve been known to pull these out for Sunday dinner or a birthday special.

Marie-Claire by Hutschenreuther

Last but certainly not least are these pretty little ladies! And oh my goodness are they pretty and dainty!  These were handed down/gifted to me by my mom and are so delicate that I can count on 1 hand how many times I have used them.

Why?

Because just to replace a salad plate is easily over $50.  For SALAD. And that’s if you can find them. Could you imagine an entire place setting?!  That’s probably why I only have 4.

I only use these for very special occasions – my anniversary, to serve my grandmother on her 86th birthday & beyond… you know big times like that.

2.  Get yourself some silverware that will last, including service pieces.

Don’t be cheap.

There I said it; let me say it again… don’t be cheap.

Get some silverware (silver OR high-quality stainless) that will last longer than a meal or two – something that’s not going to bend under pressure, please.

Again, you don’t have to go broke and in the long run, it will cost you less than buying the cheap stuff over & over (or God forbid, party store plastics).  Stores like Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Costco have some really good cost-effective options.

Look for tried and true makers such as Oneida, Towle, or Reed & Barton.  When you’re ready to really take the plunge and splurge, try some Christofle on for size!  Trust me, you won’t regret it.  And your mom will love you for it!

Reed & Barton Jubilee

Christofle Albi (aka The Splurge!)

3.  Don’t forget the glassware.

We’ve graduated from plastics and card tables so guess what…. we need some real glasses!

Start simple and easy with some footed goblets.  They can be classy and down to earth at the same time, and they look good with practically anything in any setting.  Everyone should have these.

Basic Footed Goblet via World Market

You can work your way up to crystal and delicate stems over the years; if you’re already there, please tell all the world how GREAT it is to drink from these vessels of beauty! There’s no feeling like that of sipping tea from Waterford crystal goblets. Somehow, things just seem to taste better.  😉

Now that you’ve got yourself some pretty and classic whites, simple silver, and adult glassware, let’s set the table!  Start building from bottom to top and inside out.

5 Steps to the Perfect Table Setting for any Occasion

Gather all your things – everything you think you might want or need more – & let’s get started!

1.  Choose your base layer.

Decide whether you want to leave your tabletop visible (no table covering at all), partially visible (runner(s)), or not visible at all (tablecloth).

If you choose to use runner(s) or a tablecloth, use it as an opportunity to bring in color for the season or based on the occasion.  Consider layering; it will give you a chance to use a neutral base and play around with textiles & color to create a unique look that’s all your own.

I am also going to include in this section the base of your actual place setting since that can affect how much of the tabletop is visible as well.

I’m talking about chargers and placemats.  Yes people still use placemats and it’s OKAY – as long as they are actually nice (i.e. NOT plastic, frayed, or dirty) and look appropriate for the occasion.

I personally am partial to chargers and to woven/textural placemats (less to wash – I’m not fond of laundry).

2.  Place your centerpiece.

Do this first unless your food will be the centerpiece.  LOVE that!  If that’s the case, make sure you leave enough space for the food and to place your serving pieces so that you don’t injure your pretty dishes… or your guests.

Otherwise, start here so that you can use the focal point to build off of.

It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or elaborate; in fact, most times, simple is best.  Any “bouquet” always works – flowers, branches (especially in fall), berry picks (at Christmas time), even a nice full houseplant – just make sure you use a pot, vase, or other decorative piece worthy of your table setting.

 3.  Decide what type of table setting you want.

Formal or informal?

Formal doesn’t have to be stuffy.  And it isn’t all that difficult; just remember to place utensils in order of how they will be used from the outside in and right to left.

Basically, soup spoon and salad fork on the far outside of opposite sides since they will be used (taken away) first; knife and fork on opposite insides closest to plate.

Dessert up top because it’s last.  Bread & butter at the top left so that it’s out of the way of the main setting but still within reach.  Drink(s) at top right because, for most, it’s where you’d naturally reach to grab a drink. Like this:

Formal Table Setting

Formal Table Setting via Basic Black:  Home Training for Modern Times

Informal is usually mostly the same (unless it’s a buffet) except it takes away the need to place utensils in their “appropriate” places but it can be just as elegant.  The choices for utensils for informal table settings are endless here:

Napkin styles

Napkin styles

Have some fun with informal settings and come up with something that shows your personality!

4.  Survey the situation.

Step back, tilt your head right, squint, and look at what you’ve done so far.  See what you like, what you don’t, and what you think is “just ok”. Have a seat and see how you feel.

Change things around and play with the layout until you love it.  Don’t be afraid to mix things up – everyday items with special pieces, silver with gold, crystal with colored glass, mix & match old & new, etc.

5.  Get the food on the table, gather guests around (send me an invite), bless the food (and the cook).  EAT, DRINK, and ENJOY!

Thanksgiving table

Happy Thanksgiving! Let’s EAT!!!

Don’t forget to share a pic of your best work (especially if you didn’t invite me).  Or send me your worst and I’ll help you make it great!

Enjoy!

\ní-ˈkō-lä\
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About me

I love food & wine, paint & power tools.
I am a creative introvert, programmer turned decorator, wife and mom, & mental health advocate.
I am the decorator owner of Xtraordinary by Design. My mission – rid the world of builder beige & furniture sets.

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2 Responses

  1. Elizabeth Fels says:

    Thanks for being so very articulate about dining styles. Years ago I chose Hutschenreuther Marie Claire as my fine china. It is great to see it showcased here.

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