Intimidating? It doesn’t have to be. Organization is the key. Just be sure to prepare ahead. I like to set my table a day or two before the event. That gives me time to polish silver, if necessary, put the place settings together and make the table appealing and attractive without stress.
Rule of Thumb:
- Plates about an inch or so off the table edge
- Align the silverware with the outer edge of the plate
- Bread plate on the upper left
- Salad plate on the upper right
- Napkin folded to your liking.
- I like to place mine in the wine glass, an easy attractive way.
- The order of the silverware is logical and is used from the outside in. No matter how complicated the meal and how much silverware is used, it is a simple rule to remember.
- Left side of plate: the salad fork, then the fork for the first course with the entrée fork closest to the plate.
- On the right: soup spoon, if soup is served, then knife (sharp edge towards plate) for the first course, with the knife for the main course closest to the plate.
- Desert spoon, fork or knife on top of the plate. I like to put it on the top of the plate but on the side is fine as well.
- Butter knife straight on the butter plate (upper left of dinner plate) with the handle towards the plate.
- I like my glasses put in a triangle of threes or flaring out to the left from the upper right of the plate. The order of glasses depends on the order the wine is served.
- A flower arrangement should be low enough that people can still see each other when sitting.Candles are always a nice touch.
- Butter dish, salt and pepper and a bread basket complete the table.
Fresh bread is warmed up as well if served with various courses.
All the dishes I intend to use, desert plates, coffee cups etc. are out ready and standing by in the kitchen.
When your dinner guests are seated, remove the plates as you need them to serve the food. Should you have chargers, then you can take all the plates off at one time. Otherwise, leave the dinner plate so you can place the salad, first course or soup on it. You’ll remove it all after the first course has been finished. I like chargers, they are elegant and make serving easy.
The menu should be comfortable and not over your head.
- Make sure you take into consideration any dietary restrictions of your guests. I ask when inviting them. Also, please consider any restrictions based on cultures or religions.
- I prepare the salad, put it into a plastic bag, and chop the garlic, onion, parsley etc. so it is all ready to mix with the vinaigrette. If I add cheese (goat, feta etc.) , I make sure the cheese is at room temperature.
- For the hors d’oeuvres, prepare the platter, crackers, topping and the garnish so you can put it together in the last minute before the guests arrive. If you cook the hors d’oeuvres, time it for 5 or 10 minutes after arrival time of guests.
- I like to serve Champagne before the dinner together with the hors d’oeuvres. Makes it easier, everyone has to same drink and it is very elegant. A dry champagne is recommended.
- The desert should be made ahead and ready to serve, if possible.
- A soup makes the first course easy and comfortable. A chilled soup in summer is always welcome and warm potage in winter is a delight.
- The bread is ready to be put a few minutes in the oven, then sliced and served warm with the first course and refreshed during the meal.
- Lemon or lime slices can be placed in the water glasses before the guests arrive. Have a pitcher ready with some ice water.
- If you serve a cheese platter (3 different cheeses would be a minimum), have a cheese platter ready and bring the cheeses to room temperature about 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving by covering the cheese with a moist dishtowel to retain moisture in cheeses. The flavors of the cheeses is much better at room temperature.
- The timing of the dinner will be lined out the day before the party. Depending on my guests, I like to allow 45 minutes for drinks and appetizers, 15 minutes for salad, then the main dish followed by deserts. Coffee and after dinner drinks are served in the living room away from the dinner table. The glasses are easily reachable or out, the bottles are laid out for choosing. Napkins are offered with the drinks. Maybe some Belgian truffles with the coffee if the desert is not chocolate? A nice touch and can be prepared ahead of time.
- Time of cooking for the main dish – if meat is served, include the time for resting
- Starch – cooking time to coincide with the serving time of the meat or fish
- Veggies – same as starch
- Sauce – to be finished before serving but all ingredients are ready to make it easy
- The plates are removed from the table together with the salad plates and are warmed (plate warmer-oven-warming drawer)
- Arrange the protein, veggies and starch on the plate – don’t overload
- Drizzle sauce over protein or spoon it on plate and place protein on top of it, if applicable
- Make sure any spills on plate are wiped off with wet paper towel
- Garnish with some parsley or any other colorful addition
- I like to serve dessert by itself at the dinner table, and then serve coffee and after dinner drinks in the living room
Remember, serve from the left and remove from the right.
There are many different ways to serve an elegant dinner. My background is European and I like to do it more in that style. We linger around the table, take our time and the food is served in smaller quantities with time to savor and to relax in between.