As the holidays approach, many of us start planning menus. Menus for Thanksgiving at home and what we plan to take to others’ parties. We plan menus for countless dinners for religious holidays and New Year's Eve parties and even New Year's Day. But what about the tablescape? How many of us take the time to plan what the table will look like when we sit down to eat all the wonderful food that we share with our friends and family?

While tablescapes can be glorious and extravagant, simply focusing on the place setting can lend a sense of tradition to any dinner. You can opt for a simple place setting with just the basics or a more formal place setting consisting of up to 13 pieces of flatware. It all depends on your personal preference and the food you serve. No matter which you choose, there are some etiquette guidelines to consider.

Casual place setting

A casual place setting consists of the basics: dinner knife, fork, and spoon; dinner plate; water glass; and napkin. That’s it. These items will start you on the way to not only impressing your guests but also teaching your family — especially your children — proper dining etiquette. The casual place setting is for a simple single course meal where you only need one knife, fork and spoon. It can also include a bread plate and knife if that is needed.

The knife blade faces toward the plate to help prevent any accidental cuts when picking it The spoon and glass (for liquids), along with the knife, belong on the right of the plate while the fork (for solids) and napkin belong on the left. If you remember “liquids on your right and solids on your left”, you’ll always be able to remember where each utensil belongs. This will come in handy as you move from casual to more formal place settings.

Informal place setting

The informal place setting includes a few additions: a soupspoon, a wine glass and a salad fork. These additions indicate a meal that includes at least three courses: soup, salad, and a main course.

Formal place setting

For more formal dinners like those we may have during the holiday season, a more formal place setting is most appropriate. The addition of items again indicates a meal with additional courses. A formal place setting may also include an another wine class — one for red and one for white, a dessert spoon or fork, coffee cup and saucer, bread plate and knife, and even a place card indicating where you would like your guests to sit. Other options are a champagne flute, and sherry glass for additional dinner drinks.

While you may not personally wish to set a formal table for holiday meal, you may find yourself sitting at one somewhere else. Remember, “eat from the outside in — and top down.” Each course that is served will match a utensil to the farthest outside left or right space. For instance, salad is served before the main entrée, so you would use the fork farthest out on the left, the salad fork.

The napkin

When you attend holiday dinner, your host should signal when it’s time to eat. Upon being seated, wait for you host to remove his/her napkin, then follow suit. If you need to excuse yourself from the table, your napkin should be laid in the seat of your chair. Traditionally, this signals a server that you will be returning. Once you do return, your napkin should be replaced across your lap to protect your clothing. When you are finished eating, your napkin should be folded and laid to the left of your place setting.

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