Formal place settings remain intimidating to most of us

November 16, 2013 Updated: November 16, 2013 at 3:30 pm
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t wasn't so long ago that meals meant scores of specialized utensils, plates, glasses, wine glasses and flower arrangements, the latter giving a thicket a run for its money.

Even though today's formal tables are less challenging, many hosts still find the prospect of setting the holiday table daunting.

The Emily Post Institute says don't worry. The basic rule is this: Utensils are placed in order of use, from the outside in. Forks go to the left of the plate and knives and spoons go to the right. Knives are laid closest to the plate (but not hidden underneath the plate) with the blades always pointed toward the plate. Spoons are positioned to the right of the knives.

"In medieval times, you would point the cutting edge away from your plate to show hostility or opposition to your guest," said Michelle Talarico, with Cravings Catering. "To show warmth and gratitude towards your guest, the cutting edge should always be pointing toward your plate."

Talarico also noted, "A separate piece of silverware is required for each course."

For instance, a soup spoon if you're serving soup, a salad fork strictly for salad, a dinner fork for the main course, and so on. However, dessert spoons and forks are brought in on the dessert plate. Table spoons and soup spoons are similar in appearance; however, soup spoons have a more oval shape with a deep bowl and a shorter handle. Dessert spoons are smaller, midway in length, and hold approximately two teaspoons of food. Forks are recognizable by the shape of their tines. For example, a dinner fork has long tapered tines, a salad fork has a wide left tine, and forks with curved tines are made to follow the shape of a shell, such as an oyster fork.

Each utensil should be taken away as the course is finished. That means that by the time you're enjoying dessert, the dessert spoon is your only option.

"The charger is the only thing that remains on the table throughout the meal," Talarico said. Charger plates are usually large decorative plates that act as a base for food-bearing bowls and dishes.

Proper place setting etiquette is always dependent on what is being served.

"If the table allows," said Lynn Schlemeyer with Pinery Enterprises, "you should have separate glasses for each beverage." For instance, one glass for red wine, one glass for white wine, as well as one for water. "This leaves your guest with a choice and once they have selected a beverage, you can take away the unnecessary goblets."

For holiday meals, both Schlemeyer and Talarico suggested a mix of decorative dinnerware. "Rather than obsessing about everything matching," said Schlemeyer, "use this opportunity to bring out items that have sentimental value to you and mix it up."

"One of my favorite trends right now is mixing vintage china and rustic dishes from yester-year to create a shabby chic type of look," Talarico said. "We all have things from grandma we never use. This is the perfect time to bring them out."

Talarico is enthusiastic about the many ideas she's found on Pinterest for inspiration. "We love to have clients print out ideas they've found on Pinterest to give us a feel for what image they want to create," she said. "For things that only happen once a year, you want to make a big splash and make it extra special."

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