Parties can come in any size, from an intimate dinner for two to a wedding for five hundred. No matter how many people are attending, your table needs to match the tone of the party. If I invite friends over for casual cocktails and grilling out, I’m not going to set the table with my finest china and stemware. If it’s for a multiple-course meal where the invite denotes formality, my table will need to be laid out to match.
These are the basics for laying out a formal and informal table. Of course that’s not a set rule by any means. If you aren’t serving white and red wine, you wouldn’t set out both glasses. I like to plan based on two things: formality and menu. For a casual party with an open bar, I will set the table with just a water glass. The guest will usually bring their cocktail of choice to the table. During a formal dinner I will pair the wine with the meal beforehand so I know what stemware needs to be set.
HOW I SET MY TABLES
At my Mother’s Day dinner this year, we had a multiple course dinner that called for red and white wine and champagne with dessert so I laid out each glass.
Knowing how I need to lay out each place-setting also helps me decide how I will decorate the table. If it’s going to be a formal setting requiring a lot of pieces, I’ll try to keep my centerpieces more simple to not crowd the table. When I have a straight-forward, informal setting I try to add layers by mixing patterns and textures, layering colors with placemats and napkins. This gives the table a a more full feeling.
RULES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN
Anytime I start to set the table I like to lay out a few pieces together. Getting an idea of how things are going to look before I grab every piece out of my cabinets. Above, I originally had navy glasses with silver utensils — I immediately knew this wasn’t going to achieve the look I wanted. But instead of having to put away twelve place settings when they didn’t work out, I only had to swap out a few items.
I love to pay attention to place settings when I attend weddings, go out to eat or attend other friends’ parties. You can get some great inspiration from the world around you! I remember the first time I saw someone double a napkin ring as a place card in order to save space on the table. While it’s common now, especially at weddings, this was groundbreaking at the time. This is how I dive into party planning — there are basic guidelines, but in the end it’s your party and your rules. Don’t be afraid to break the mold!