Howard Michael Gowen on How to Set a Formal Dinner Table


Want to throw a formal dinner party, but don’t know which fork goes where? No problem, says Howard Michael Gowen! Over the past few decades, we’ve lost the art of setting the formal dining table. Common convention is that no matter where the bread plate is placed, the buns will taste the same. And while this is certainly true, setting up a formal dinner table can show your guests the care and attention you give to hospitality.

It’s a cute touch that can add a little extra magic to your next celebration or dinner party. You do not know where to start ? Relax. We have a few simple instructions to help you make sure your table is properly and beautifully set.

Think about your menu

Establishing a formal table becomes much easier when you realize that everything is based on logic, says Howard Michael Gowen. For example, silverware is placed on the table in the order it will be used, starting with the outside and working as the meal progresses. And the stemware is placed above and to the right of the plate so people don’t have to lean over their plates to pick up their drinks. There is no need to clutter your cutlery with unnecessary utensils. If you don’t eat oysters, leave out the oyster forks. If you don’t serve bread, you don’t need bread plates. Think about the menu you have planned and set your table according to the needs of your guests.

Place your towels correctly, says Howard Michael Gowen

One of the first mistakes people make when setting up a formal table is putting the napkin under the silverware, says Howard Michael Gowen. This is a mistake because it creates a lot of unnecessary noise when people are sitting down. Usually, the first thing people do when they sit down at the table is to put their napkins on their lap. If your silverware is on the napkin it causes a loud clicking noise and sometimes even a fork or two falling out. Instead, fold your napkins neatly over the plate or use napkin rings and set them to the side.

Clear the table between lessons

One way to make the table more attractive and easier to use for your guests is to clear it between courses. Remove empty serving plates and used cutlery that you will no longer need at the table. This creates space for the next dish, visually indicates a progression through the meal, and also helps guests discern which cutlery they should use next.

It is not difficult to set a formal dinner table, says Howard Michael Gowen. And remember, the most important thing is that you and your guests have a good time. If you forget a dessert fork or they are using the wrong utensils, forget it. Discretion is always the best part of bravery and formal dining tables.


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