top of page

Four Ways to Set the Table for a Dinner Party

Updated: Apr 22



Gathering family and friends to share a meal is important for our overall health. Creating beautiful tablescapes is one way we elevate our time together to let others know they are special. With that said, we need to ensure our desire to entertain does not override our display of hospitality. Too often we sit down at a table that is gorgeous, only to realize it does not function well. A 3’ floral arrangement will eliminate conversation for those sitting across from each other. A place setting with a soup bowl, stacked on top of a salad plate, stacked on top of a dinner plate, stacked on top of a charger, is a logistic nightmare. Stores will showcase settings in similar fashion, but it is for the purpose of helping the customer see how well the different crockery works together. These displays are not meant to function effectively for a dinner party.


Although there can be variations, and I am all about trying new things, there are four basic ways a table should be set if you want things to flow smoothly. Deciding which is best will be determined by the type of service you will offer.



Formal:

  1. Setting: Salad plate/dinner plate/charger

  2. Serving style: Professional servers

  3. Order of service:

    1. Guest takes her seat at the table

    2. In front of her are a salad plate, dinner plate, charger

    3. Salad and dinner plate are removed by the professional server and the salad is returned plated and placed on top of the charger

    4. After the first course, the salad is removed by the professional server and the main course is returned plated and placed on top of the charger

    5. After the main course, the dinner plate is removed by the professional server, along with the charger, and the dessert is served plated



Semi-Formal:

  1. Setting: Salad plate/charger

  2. Serving style: Hostess is the server

  3. Order of service:

    1. Guest takes her seat at the table

    2. In front of her is a pre-plated, ready to eat salad sitting on top of a charger (no dinner plate is present)

    3. After the first course, the hostess gets up from the table, removes each salad plate, returns with the main course plated and places it on top of the charger

    4. After the main course, the hostess gets up from the table, removes each dinner plate, along with the charger, and returns with dessert plated

    5. Hostess will also need to keep drinks filled throughout the evening



Family Style:

  1. Setting: Dinner plate/charger with salad plate to the left and bread plate at top left

  2. Serving style: Food is placed in the middle of the table in large bowls and casserole dishes

  3. Order of service:

    1. Guest takes her seat at the table

    2. In front of her is a dinner plate on top of a charger with a salad plate to the left and bread plate above the salad plate

    3. Food is passed to the right, and everyone serves themselves on their salad plate, bread plate and dinner plate

    4. Once the meal is complete the hostess removes the salad plate, bread plate, dinner plate and charger

    5. She returns with dessert plated or she places a large dessert in the middle of the table and allows everyone to serve themselves

    6. Hostess will also need to keep drinks filled throughout the evening



Buffet:

  1. Setting: Charger

  2. Serving style: Food is on a buffet table where salad and dinner plates are located

  3. Order of service:

    1. Guests serve their salad and seat themselves at the table

    2. Once the first course is finished, guests go back to the buffet for the main entre

    3. While guests are at the buffet the hostess clears the salad plates and refills drinks

    4. Repeat same protocol for dessert

(With all four examples the napkins, utensils and drinking glasses are present.)

There are different variations in the service styles we have talked about. For example, with family style you might choose to have only a dinner plate. No bread or salad dish as guests are expected to place all food on the main plate.

Another example might be if you do a combination semi-formal and family. Guests sit down to a salad/dinner/charger, but the salad is not pre-plated. You have a big salad on the table that is passed so others may serve themselves. Then, the hostess removes the salad and returns with a pre-plated main course. This represents a combination of styles.


For the buffet, you might choose to have the dinner plates at the table instead of on the buffet. I prefer this configuration when I serve buffet style. My guests gather around the table and find their seat. While we are all standing, we say grace, and then each person picks up their plate and heads to the buffet. This is an easy and comfortable way to serve. With buffet, you can always skip the salad plate and just provide a large dinner plate for both salad and dinner.


How you choose to serve your guests is up to you. But always ask yourself, “Does the meal function smoothly?” If you place a soup bowl/salad plate/dinner plate/charger in front of a guest, chaos will ensue as everyone begins to disassemble all your hard work. Your beautifully designed tablescape will be a big mess with dishes scattered everywhere. Think through the evening, ask how everything functions, do a trial run, and keep the comfort of your guests as the top priority. When you do this, everyone will whisper, “She always throws the most beautiful parties!” Never realizing that the secret behind a great party is not style, but function.


Together with you,

Lisa Lou

Comments


bottom of page