Years ago, when friends gathered for dinner, it wasn’t just over a pizza and some beers (although there’s nothing wrong with that!). Intense menu planning and table setting created an elegant, and elaborate, experience that brought friends and family together. There were rules for where forks went, and which glass held what, and each item around a place setting had its purpose.
Historically, menus had around twelve or more courses, well established by tradition and following a specific sequence, one after another, allowing ample time to finish each course. The table setting is very specific and follows the order of the meal. Here is the general layout of a twelve course meal, which includes: salad, dinner, and dessert forks; dessert spoon; soup and dinner spoons (not pictured); dinner and butter knives; water and champagne glasses; red and white wine glasses (not pictured); entrée plate; and cloth napkin.
As you can see, even without some elements, the place setting looks impeccable. The placements of tools are guided by that evening’s menu, which is why there can be variation. If you’re not planning to serve soup and none of the food items require a dinner spoon, like in the photo above, feel free to skip them.
To add those extra items, though, is quite simple. Additional wine glasses – a red wine glass and a white wine glass – would be placed to the right of the water and champagne. Dinner and soup spoons would go to the right of the dinner knife (replacing the butter knife), and the butter knife, with a small bread plate, would be set to the top left of the entrée plate. The knife would lie across the plate, facing up, like the other knives.
Generally, you arrange utensils based on outside-in ordering. Knives are always placed with the blade toward the plate. No more than three of any utensil is ever placed on the table, save in instances where an oyster fork is needed in addition to three other forks. If more than three utensils of any type are needed during the meal the utensil would be brought with that course. The dessert spoons and forks are usually brought with the dessert plate just before dessert is served.
When arranging the table, everything is geometrically placed. The center place is exactly center on the table. The place settings are equal distances between one another. Décor and flowers can be varied, but utensils were once placed with the help of a yardstick. (Feel free to break it out for your dinner setting, too, if you’re feeling ambitious.)
Of course, this is a strict version—this is how Lord and Lady Grantham would expect it to be. However, knowing this can lead to a great dinner party, albeit probably more relaxed (unless of course, you know someone that lives in a castle and their home is made of pure gold).
Using a classic table setting can elevate a party to the next level; it can be used to impress some impossible-to-please family members or it can be used as part of a playful evening, where you invite your guests to dress up and act the part in a “black tie” affair. Above all: have fun with it! We can all use a little glamour in our lives sometimes, and hosting a classic dinner party is one way to do it.