Dinner Party Table Setting, Seating Chart, & Serving Food
Create a dramatic “wow” moment when your guests see your decorated dining table by keeping the dining area hidden from view until seating for dinner.
Designate the cocktail area away from the dining room, keep access doors closed, and lights off. Light the candles and fill water glasses yourself before announcing dinner.
Dinner Party Table Setting
Most of the dinner party will happen at the dining table, so plan thepresentation of the dining room, table decorations and individual place settings with care.
For the table, use a white tablecloth and white napkins to make your decorations pop-out on the neutral background.
Include a strong visual centerpiece to emphasize your theme and add fun and/or elegance. Make sure the centerpiece does not obstruct guests’ view of each other across the table.
Use tapers, votives, and/or pillar candles, in conjunction with an overhead light on a dimmer, to create "warm fuzzy" lighting, which is more cozy and flattering.
Whether you are plating the food or serving family-style, fully set each place setting for a more spectacular visual display.
Start by centering a charger, service plate, or dinner plate at each chair. The plate should be 1 inch from the edge of the table. When plating food, service and dinner plates are picked up before the first course is served, chargers may, optionally, be left down for the soup and salad courses.
Make sure all of the chairs and plates are aligned and evenly spaced.
Set each place with silverware, aligned 1 inch from the edge of the table. Silverware is, generally, placed in the order it is to be used from the outside toward the plate.
Fork: Place the dessert fork to the left of the plate, the dinner fork next, and the salad fork on the outside. You may optionally center the dessert fork above the plate, prongs left and perpendicular to the silverware beside the plate.
Knife: The knife is placed on the right with the blade facing the plate. If there is more than one knife, they should also be placed with the first knife to be used at the farthest position from the plate.
Spoon: The spoon is placed to the right of the knife and the soup spoon at the farthest right. The dessert spoon is typically centered above the plate with the bowl to the right and perpendicular to the silverware beside the plate.
Alternatively, the dessert fork, dessert spoon, soup spoon, and steak knife may all be brought out during the appropriate course. Do not place more than 3 pieces of silverware on each side of the plate. If you
require more, bring silverware out as the additional courses are served.
Bread Plate: The bread plate should be above and left of the dinner plate with the butter knife, if using, across the plate.
Water Glass: Place the glasses in order of use, starting with the water glass, which should be above and right of the plate, above the knife.
Wine Glass: The wine glass is to the right and below the water glass. If serving red & white, place the white wine glass below and right of the red wine glass, which is below and right of the water glass. Alternatively, the 2nd wine glass may be placed to make a triangle with the 1st wine glass and water glass.
Champagne Glass: Place the champagne glass above and right of the wine glasses.
Coffee Cup: The coffee cup's position is to the right of the glasses. If you are tight for space, place the coffee cup lower on the right or bring coffee cups out with dessert.
Napkin: The napkin should go to the left of the forks, in the charger, or in a glass.
Incorporate your theme at each place setting by:
Placing a theme cocktail napkin in each charger or plate
Prepare a color-coordinated or themed aperitif. Serve by filling a shot or cordial glass for each guest and place on the cocktail napkin. If the aperitif and napkin are the same color you may omit the cocktail napkin to make the cordial glass stand-out. Have your aperitifs in place before the guests enter the dining area.
Use color or theme beads as a napkin ring for guests to optionally wear.
Here are a few aperitif suggestions by color:
Black: Chilled black vodka, Blavod, Black Russian
Blue: Vodka w/blue cuacao., Blue Kamikaze
Red: Campari or Raspberry Schnapps
Green: Sour Apple Schnapps, Melon Ball
Teal: Vodka w/ Sour Apple & a few drops of Blue Curacao, Melon Ball with Blue Curacao
Pink: P.i.n.k. vodka, vodka with a few drops of raspberry, Pink Lady
Purple: Grape Schnapps, blue Schnapps w/ raspberry
Orange: Gran Marnier; triple sec, Cointreau, or orange flavored vodka
Yellow: Galiano, tequila
If necessary, use a small amount of Jell-O, Kool-aid or food coloring to color a flavored vodka or any other clear drink you wish to use.
For a birthday party, add an extra feeling of celebration by hanging crepe streamers or dangling swirls from the ceiling.
Dinner Party Table Seating
VERY IMPORTANT: Always have a seating arrangement plan, no matter how small a crowd – even a party of four. Here’s why:
Couples, partners, and best friends will usually talk to each other quite easily. Always seat them across the table from one another so that their conversation naturally includes those seated around them. Their familiarity will spark activity and interest at the table with less effort by you.
On the other hand, when seated next to each other, it excludes everyone else from their conversation. Furthermore, sitting them too far apart may stifle their conversation.
Technically, the guest of honor is seated to the right of the host and their dinner partner is seated to the right of the co-host. Personally, I prefer to seat the guest of honor in the center of the table to allow him/her access to the greatest number of other guests.
Plan your seating arrangement by placing your conversationalists and fun guests first. If you have more than one, separate them. Then assign their partner the seat directly across.
If a guest does not have a partner, seat the guest they know best that also does not have a partner directly across.
Decide who you would like to assist you during the meal, if you need it. Do not use your co-host for assistance while serving. One host should be with the rest of the guests at all times.
The shyest guest is often a good pick, because it gives them something to do without the social anxiety. And, it does not kill the party when you both are out of the room.
Seat your designated helper to your left. Of course, it isn't necessary to tell them that they are the designated helper (singling them out may make them uncomfortable), just quietly ask them if they would give you hand in the kitchen (if you need it).
Dinner Party Table Serving
Before your guests arrive, choose how you will serve dinner:
Plate the food - put the food on each plate in the kitchen
and bring out to each guest, also called "restaurant style"
family style - allow the guests to
help themselves at the table from serving bowls and platters
up a buffet - put the food in serving
dishes on a buffet, counter, or separate table and have your guests get up and
serve their plates
Plating allows for a much more interesting presentation, and should be
no problem with a little assistance.
If you want to effortlessly execute the synchronization of cooking, plating, serving, and clearing, as well as any birthday festivities, simply write out a detailed timeline of events before the party.
It is extremely difficult to concentrate and remember all the details you have planned after your guests arrive. The solution: give yourself some direction and reminders in the form of a written schedule of things to do.
When heating or cooking, always use a timer during a dinner party. If you need more than one, use the alarm clock on your phone and carry it with you. The last thing you want to do is forget to take something off the stove or out of the oven. It is very easy to get distracted attending to your guests and lose track of time.
Dinner parties are perfect for birthdays because you can use the time between courses for birthday festivities. Plan to have the birthday boy or girl open cards and gifts between courses right before the main course.
This gives you a little extra time to get the main course served, and it is completely adjustable to you. If you are ready to serve, save the rest of the cards and gifts for after the main course and before dessert.