Place settings 101 - A cheat sheet

December 02, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

In the midst of holiday season -- aka the "eating season" -- some folks prepping for Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah gatherings would rather not do the paper-plate thing.

Besides, who says food is the only star of the table? Why not give its supporting cast - the dinnerware - some time to shine?

To help demystify what goes where in a formal place setting, we sought out Pat Spellar, co-owner of Carol & Company, a boutique in downtown Hagerstown. Spellar is used to being asked about what goes where on the table this time of year. Her boutique offers upscale formal place settings and dinnerware.

What we learned was that with formality come many rules. Thankfully, Spellar, who lived just outside London before coming to Hagerstown, brought her sensibilities to the table when preparing this guide for Herald-Mail readers.


-- Tiffany Arnold

What it is, what it does and where it goes on your table

(A) Charger

Think of chargers as supplemental mess insurance.

A charger can be thought of as an underplate, but you don't put food on it. Generally, you place your guests' plates on top of the charger because formal, by-the-book place setting rules don't permit using placemats and tablecloths at the same time.

But even if you were using placemats, Spellar said you can still use chargers.

As far as price, you can be as frugalista or as frivolous as you'd like. A single pewter charger at Neiman Marcus, for example, costs around $145 online. Chargers in the lower to mid-price range and are typically made to look metallic -- gold leaf over some sort of plastic - while casual chargers might be made of porcelain. Chargers at Crate and Barrel's Web catalog cost around $5 a pop.

B) Dinner plate

The dinner plate is the largest of the plates, enough to handle the main course.

While the plates shown in this photo are stacked one on top of the other, this is not how you'd serve your guests.

"There should be one plate in the charger at a time," Spellar said. But the charger should never be left empty.

(C) Salad plate

In formal place settings, each course has its own plate and flatware. Which means the salad arrives on its own special plate - one that's smaller than the dinner plate - and gets its own set of flatware. Gauging from the flatware in this setting, the salad is probably going to come before the main course. Salad forks are smaller than dinner forks (see F).

(D) Accent plate

This is also known as the cute plate, but it isn't just for show. It's a cute plate you can eat off of. Spellar suggests using it for dessert.

(E) Bread plate

Your bread goes on a separate plate as well. Spellar placed it to the right of the dinner plate.

(F) Silverware

When in doubt, use utensils from the outside in. They should be placed in the order of use. With knives, the sharp edge goes toward the plate. The flatware is above the plate is for dessert (See H).

So what's the difference between the silverware at a formal place setting and an informal place settings? Weight, Spellar said. Real silver is heavy and generally must be washed by hand.

(G) Glasses

This is roughly the spot on the table where your glasses would go. Here, you have glasses for red wine, white wine and water. Spellar has arranged them in a triangle formation.

(H) Dessert spoon, fork

There's a separate set of flatware for your dessert. Flatware for desserts is placed above the plate.

(I) Coffee or tea cup, saucer

Spellar said as a matter of good manners, if your guest asks for tea, don't serve it with the bag already inside: It's considered tacky because your guest won't have any place to gracefully offload the bag once the tea has steeped. Instead, ask your guests how they take their tea - strong or mild? or whether they want sugar, lemon or any other additive.

(J) Party favor

When the meal is over and the guests have gone, more and more people are wanting to leave guests with a reminder of the good times they had.

"Favors are the big thing, lately," Spellar said.

Spellar opted for an ornament in the tea cup.

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