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  • Writer's pictureJulie Bliss

How to dress a dining table - for Christmas or any other time of year!

We all have a little bit of a panic about the dinner table when hosting dinner parties or special occasions like Christmas. It needs to create such a great impression, convey a sense of occasion and also look like you've just effortlessly thrown it all together to look fabulous!

Here are a few tips and rules about dressing a dinner table that we hope might alleviate any pre-party stress...

What’s your look?

This is of course the most important part of dressing a table - knowing the look you’re going for and gathering the components accordingly.

What style are you going for? Vintage, contemporary, rustic, botanical, floral and what is your over-riding colour theme or palette? Make sure you have a palette rather than one colour so the colour theme is subtle.

If you don't really have a colour theme in mind, go with seasonal colours or pick out some colours from your crockery or from the food you'll be serving.

Your crockery does not all have to be matchy-matchy. Some of the best table settings are a mix of different patterns or colours… Just try to keep to the same style.

Crockery, cutlery, tableware and glassware all in place

It’s all about creating that first impression with a wow factor. Always lay your table with tableware, crockery, cutlery and glassware all in place. This gives a sense of occasion and also allows your guests to get an idea of the sort of meal they’re going to be enjoying. It creates anticipation.

Lay out your flatware

When laying your table, put all the various plates and bowls in place. You can either serve from the table or simple remove them course by course to serve from the kitchen or serving table.

General placing etiquette

Side plates to the left. Glasses to the right.

Cutlery works its way in from the outside, so your starter cutlery will be on the outside, with your main course and dessert following in. That way you use the cutlery in order of use.

Forks go to the left of the plate, knives and spoons (e.g. soup spoons) go to the right. You can also put dessert cutlery over the top of your flatware - with handles from the outside in. Your dessert fork is always underneath your spoon.

OR....! You can just forget all that and bunch up your cutlery in a pretty bow in the centre of the plate... Who needs etiquette when you're with friends!

Dressed or bare?

It all depends on your personal preference and of course the table! Lots of tables are beautiful and there to be admired, so let your table’s beauty shine through, but protect it with mats and coasters to avoid heat or liquid damage.

Runners are great especially if you're not using mats or tablecloths. They add a bit of style and colour down the centre of your table while protecting the surface from any hot plates, candles etc.

Napkins or serviettes?

They're the same, but Serviette is the English version; while napkin is American. But it also means a nappy in more dated English, so let's call them serviettes, because we don't want to be thinking about baby's nappies on dinner tables!

Fabric serviettes are way classier than paper ones and should be placed either on the stack of crockery, on the left hand side of your cutlery or on your side/bread plate. If you're putting all your cutlery together on the plate, you can either place it on top of the serviette or fold the serviette around it in a little envelope.

Keep floral arrangements and candles on the down-low

Candelabras or tall flower arrangements are all very well on tables when they aren't being used, but if you want candles and flowers on your dinner table, and still want to be able to see your dining companions, then keep all arrangements low to the table. Tea lights are great, as are small glasses of a few flowers down the centre of the table.

Carefully chosen, minimal decoration works best

Try to keep all the extra "stuff" and decorative items to a minimum. Choose carefully. Don't just put as much decoration as possible on the table because it will just look cluttered and messy and you won't have anywhere to put your glasses, serving plates etc.

Keep lighting low and subtle

Turn off those downlights and spots and keep the area you are dining in low lit, using either lamps, uplights, large candles or wall lights/sconces.

Lit candles on the table itself table create atmosphere, and also direct the focus to the table, not the rest of the room.

When to prepare?

There are two schools of thought about all of the above...

One is to get ready in advance and not to do it all last minute! If you like to be organised, dress the table the night or morning before, so there's no last minute flustering about! You need to be able to concentrate on your food and your guests on the day.

Personally, however, I love a bit of spontaneity and I seem to get my creative inspiration from the buzz and excitement of the occasion. So, while I might have all the above elements in mind, I do it the other way around; getting all my food and drink etc sorted first then pull all the decor together last minute with a flourish!

Happy entertaining.

Photos: Obeki, The Spruce (feature image), ka-99, House Beautiful.


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