Laying the table

One of the most mundane (and often most time-consuming) parts of my job is laying up the tables. When numbers are high it becomes quite a challenge, trying to remember everything while still making it look appealing. Some families like decorations in the form of table runners, candles, flowers or more ornamental centre pieces. Others like to use cloth napkins and in these cases I like to do a little napkin folding (more on this in another post – maybe).

By the time its finished you want people to walk into the room and say ‘wow’ or ‘oooo’, thus beginning the anticipation of a wonderful evening to come. The table pictured comes complete with starter, when the starter is served cool I like to have everything ready for the first course before I call for dinner.

There is no ‘standard’ laid table, there is a formula to follow and some things do appear on every table, but usually it depends greatly on what is being eaten. For instance if you look closely at the picture you will see that there are little lobster forks, for the first course and only spoons for pudding. On other occasions you may have only a soup spoon for starter and fish cutlery for the main course. Some puddings look best in tall glasses so appropriate small spoon need to be used. The general formula however remains the same. Central place mat with side plate to the left, napkin folded on top of the side plate and then whichever cutlery appropriate for your menu, starter cutlery on the outside and the leading inwards, (some people like to put dessert cutlery above the place mat but this reminds me of prep school and I’m not a fan). With regard to glasses it can also depend on food, something you’ll need to decided (or discuss with your guests) is the wine. If white meat is being served as the main course you may be sticking with white wine all the way through dinner in which case you will only need the one wine glass (and one water-glass) however if there is a switch to red wine to accompany the main course then two will be needed. Sometimes even small dessert wine glasses are called upon.

The variation is, obviously, immense but this is basically the way I do mine and no one has ever complained….

A few years ago I traveled on the Kenya - Uganda railway. This is how they laid the table in the dining car (before our first class 3 course dinner!)

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