Overcoming Anxiety is a series where Cat shares tips for balancing a desire to be social with various phobias/fears. If your life is severely impacted and/or limited by your own anxiety, please consult an actual mental health professional. She is not one.
Bad news: there are lots of ways to set a table. Good news: there are some pretty clear guidelines out there that will make it easier on you.
The first thing you should consider is the occasion. Are you setting the table for you and your BFF, or is the Queen of England coming to tea? If it’s your BFF, relax and do what’s easy or fun. If it’s the Queen of England, send me an invite. Please. But also make sure you spend extra time thinking about the formality of the place settings, your dinner menu, and the utensils and dishes you need to make things run smoothly/appropriately.
The basic components of a place setting are:
Utensils – fork, knife, spoon
Dishes – glass, dinner plate, bowl
Other – napkin
Don’t already have dinnerware? This is a nice, basic set that you can pair with these utensils and some drinking glasses. Oh! And don’t forget napkins (cloth are more formal and work great for things where you want to be fancy – like holidays, while paper are better for casual or large scale events). 🙂
A more complex setup may include:
Utensils – fork, salad fork, butter knife, steak knife, spoon
Dishes – water glass, wine glass, appetizer plate, salad plate, dinner plate, bowl
Other – Napkin, placemat, charger
Find wine glasses, steak knives, placemats, chargers (a charger is a decorative plate that goes under the dinner plate – don’t put food directly on it!) and more at anywhere from Target to Amazon to Williams-Sonoma.
What dictates the complexity of your place setting is the formality of the event and also the serving requirements of the food you will be serving.
These may vary a bit by country or occasion, but frankly, most people will be impressed/delighted that you’re having them over for dinner in the first place. 😉
Let’s pretend you have five friends as dinner guests who will all sit at the same table.
Fine. If you don’t currently have five friends, you can check out this OA article on how to be interesting. That should bring some new people into your life.
Now that you have the friend thing sorted out, let’s look at the table.
Pretty plain and boring, isn’t it? We should set out one example place setting, then you can repeat it. Ready? Pretend you are sitting at the table – here is what you should see in front of you.
Fork and napkin on the left, largest plate in the middle, knife and spoon on the right. Appetizer plate is slightly in front of the fork and drinking glass is slightly in front of the knife/spoon.
Now lets do that five more times – we are setting six place settings because you are presumably going to be sitting with your friends. I hope.
Look! It’s a nicely set, casual table. And there are even spaces to put other things! Try a vase of flowers or candles for something pretty and festive, or feel free to have your serving dishes full of food out to be passed around at will. Like this.
If you have a small table, you can serve the food away from the table you are eating at. Instruct people to grab their plates and direct them to where the food and beverages can be found.
Preferably in your home, already set out by you. Ahem.
What’s that? Oh, you have FANCY friends.
Not to worry! Let’s start back at the first place setting – here is how it will look directly in front of you.
Bottom row from left to right: folded napkin, tallest fork to smallest fork (if you need to add forks, just keep ’em in descending order of height),charger plate in the center with the dinner plate laid on top and the soup bowl on top of that. Knife (tallest to smallest again if you have more than the steak and butter knives), and extra spoons beyond the soup spoon can go to the right of that. Top row from left to right: salad plate, appetizer plate with butter knife on top, soup spoon, water glass, wine glass (additional wine glasses can continue along to the right). This may not be the most formal setting on the planet, but it should serve you quite well for nearly any “nicer-than-usual” occasion.
Now repeat it 5 more times.
Since you’re being fancy, now you have all the more reason to add a few decorative touches. Flowers, candles, table runner (a piece of decorative fabric that runs length wise down the center of the table. Different from a table cloth in that a table cloth covers the entire surface of the table while a table runner “runs” down the center lengthwise). Make sure your decorative touches don’t block the view your guests have of one another – keep the vases, fruits, and most candles below eye level.
Look at that lovely table! Well done. 🙂
Still in need of other examples? There are lots online! Try not to get too nervous about how much variation there is – because there are so many ways to do it, it means that most of them are right. You’ll only get into trouble if you do something big like run out of forks or try to serve soup with a knife. You got this!
Something got you anxious? Get Cat’s perspective by emailing her at email@example.com.
More from Overcoming Anxiety:
- Throwing a Dinner Party at Home
- New Year’s Resolutions
- Makeup Parts 1, 2, 3, & 4
- In the Kitchen
- How to be Interesting
- Driving to the Party
She lives in the Bay Area and cites her diverse background as her biggest influence: her visual artist mom is half-Chinese, half-Greek, and from Hawai’i; her film-loving, world-music curating dad is from Montana; and she lived in both California and Montana while growing up. She loves at least a little bit about virtually everything (Pokémon Snap included) and aims to be a Jane of all trades. By day Cat is a multiple-hat-wearing media person.
She is also allergic to felines.