We tend to be an informal bunch at Remodelista (have you seen Sarah's video for setting an outdoor table?), but we do like a well-set table for special occasions. So we checked in with Amanda and Merrill at Food52 for a tutorial on the art and science of setting a table. Here's what they have to say:
Above: For weeknight dinners, the basic table setting includes a dinner plate, a fork, a knife, a spoon, a napkin (we're currently coveting Provisions' Heirloomed Linen Napkins; $34 for a set of four), a drinking glass and a wine glass).
RM: What's the rule for utensil placement?
F52: Place utensils from the outside in, according to what you'll be using first. The fork sits to the left of the plate, and knives to the right (blades facing in, toward the plate). Spoons always go to the right of knives.
Informal Place Setting
RM: What about for a dinner soirée or a lunch party?
F52: An informal place setting a la Emily Post includes a salad fork, a soup spoon (if you're serving soup), a dessert spoon (or fork), and a dinner plate. The salad plate sits to the left of the forks. A bread plate and knife is placed above the forks. And above the knife and spoons, a water glass, a wine glass, and a tea or coffee cup.
Formal Place Setting
Above: A formal table setting for a mutli-course (imaginary) dinner party.
RM: And if you're going all-out?
F52: Let's say you're serving oysters, soup, a salad, a fish course, and an entree. Emily Post says you need a charger, also called a service plate (while it does feel very formal, etiquette dictates that it's a proper part of the formal table setting), plus a dinner plate. To the left of the plate, you'll need a salad fork, a fish fork, and a dinner fork. To the right of the plate, you'll need an oyster fork (it's the only fork that sits on the right of the plate), a soup spoon, a fish knife, and a dinner knife.
For big group gatherings, no need to set the table at all. Stacks of plates, bunches of silverware, piles of napkins; let your guests help themselves.
Above: Dare to mismatch; if you're having a crowd, you'll probably need to marshal all your plates.
Above: Ditto for flatware; we know people who entertain frequently who keep an extra drawer of mismatched yard sale finds for this purpose.
RM: What are five things from Provisions you always have on your daily table setting?