Everyone loves the ease of entertaining an informal dinner. We are guilty all too often of pulling out the paper plates and serving things buffet style. And if that’s what it takes for you to invite some friends over, great! But it can be a nice touch to set a table and share a meal that you and a few close friends can gather around.
Having a sit-down dinner doesn’t have to be complicated. We think it’s all about keeping it simple…. otherwise, the idea of setting a perfect table and trying to figure out what you’ll talk about all night may be enough to make you call in the take out.
Here are a few easy tips to keep the night lively, the table setting easy and elegant, and how to pull it off without a hitch. And if you still want to get take out, make sure you order well ahead of time so you can put it in some nice dishes to make it look like you slaved all day over the stove!
We suggest setting the table the night before. That way it’s all done and all you have to work on is the meal. A table setting is EXTRA easy if you use plain white dishes. I love having colorful dishes, but about 10 years ago, I ditched my colorful set and bought clean, white, simple dishes. They look great displayed in the cabinet, make the food look tastier, and add an easy elegance to a table setting. I don’t like spending a lot of money on dinnerware and I searched for something that would not break the bank yet would also hold up to everyday wear. My favorite line is from Crate & Barrel. They have a line of dishes called their Essential Dinnerware. It has simple, clean lines and its held up to just about everything I’ve thrown at it. I have a few pieces that have chipped over the years, but the line is still around 10 years later so it’s easy to just buy another plate if the need arises. The best part is that even though the line is porcelain, they are very inexpensive. A set can be purchased at a discount for $36.95 for 8 dinner plates, $29.95 for 8 salad plates, and $29.95 for 8 bowls. That’s under $100 for a whole set of 8!
Here is a link to the Crate & Barrel Essential Dinnerware Line: https://www.crateandbarrel.com/dinnerware-collections/essential-dinnerware/
Now for the fun part; setting the table! Here are some easy steps for a BASIC TABLE SETTING:
If you are using a placemat, set the dinner plate in the center
Take a napkin (we suggest going to the dollar store and getting REAL white linen napkins). Fold them into a rectangle and place it to the left of the dinner plate.
Place the fork in the middle of the napkin.
Place the knife to the right of the dinner plate, blade facing in towards the plate.
Place the spoon to the right of the knife.
Align all the silverware so that the bottoms line up with the bottom of the plate.
Imagine the dinner plate is the face of a clock. Place the dinner glass at the one o’clock position of the dinner plate. Make sure the entire glass is on the place mat. You may need to position the plate and silverware lower towards the bottom edge of the place mat so they all fit.
OPTIONAL: If you are serving wine, or would like to serve a spritzer in a wine glass, place it to the outside right of the dinner glass.
Place a sprig of thyme or rosemary in the center of the plate at a slight angle. If you are setting the table the night before. Wait to place the herbs until an hour or so before dinnertime.
Voila! A basic table setting all ready to go!
If you would like to serve a salad on a smaller plate, simply put your salad plate on top of the dinner plate. You can put the sprig of thyme on top of that. You can also put a smaller salad fork to the left of the larger dinner fork.
Lastly, if you are serving soup or a saucy dish like curry, simply place the bowl on top of the salad plate or dinner plate.
The important thing is not to stress about it! You can stick with the basic setting for ALL occasions and you don’t need a salad fork if you don’t have one. The table will look great either way.
For a touch of color and seasonal interest, we like to add a few flowers to the table. Do not go and spend big money on a fancy bouquet. An inexpensive bouquet is all you need. We like to cut the bouquet down and divide it among a few small vases or mason jars. That also keeps them lower to the table so you don’t have a giant bouquet preventing you from seeing the person across from you.
We also like to add a few votive candles to the table. This can really set a relaxed mood yet you don’t have to worry about candle wax dripping all over.
The trick to a seamless evening is to have background music. This does wonders to prevent the awkward silence that can arise when everyone is chowing down. We suggest starting the music before guests arrive to set the mood right away. Here are a few of our favorite dinner party playlists on Spotify:
Jazz - Dinner Party - By mark.hayhurst
An enchanting compilation of 94 of the best jazz artists from Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone and the rest of the best! Think nostalgic evening over candlelight, lingering conversations, and letting the dishes just sit as you reminisce all night.
Dinner Party Jazz: A Delicious Collection of Instrumental Jazz for Entertaining - Various Artists
A jazzy instrumental mix that you won’t have to think about. It will just play nicely in the background and add a light, happy mood.
Mellow Pop - by Spotify
This is an easy going mix of easy vocal pop that plays nicely without getting weird or feeling like you need to forward a song.
Family Dinner Party - By Blaike Ford
This has a whopping 449 songs that include everything from BB King to Cold Play. It’s a nice mix of music that won’t get out of hand while still remaining upbeat. 449 songs in this mix means once you set it, you can forget it.
And there you have it. An easy table setting, mood-setting music, and you’re on your way to a memorable evening.
Written by Alise Roberts
Video by Bethanie Ferrando