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Special touches

By Staff
Paying attention to details turns a typical table into something wonderful
Sitting down to dinner with family or friends used to be a common practice. But in the era of long work hours, take-out and frozen suppers being enjoyed in front of the TV, finding the time to plan a meal is often an occasion worth celebrating in itself!
So when people finally do find the time to prepare a dinner, they tend to focus all of their attention on the meal itself and skimp on a crucial ingredient – setting the table. People typically spend hours preparing the food, only to hastily set the table just before the guests arrive. But a well-set table adds to the ambiance of any meal, evoking style and class. Here's how to set one.
When planning a beautiful table, stick to the basics: Place the main plate, known as the service or show plate, in the center of each person's sitting spot. This plate is used to frame a place setting and can be used either to serve the entr/e or as a decoration to be replaced when the entr/e is served on a plate of its own. A salad plate or soup bowl goes above the show plate. Forks go to the left of the plate, knives and spoons to the right. When it comes to determining the order of silverware on each side, logic prevails: Place the utensils that will be used first furthest from the plate, the ones used later, closer to the plate. For example, on the left: salad fork on the outside, then entr/e fork on the inside; on the right: appetizer knife and soupspoon on the outside, then entr/e knife on the inside. The fork and knife for the entr/e should be closest to the plate. Desert fork and spoon are often placed above the dinner plate, or can be brought out with the dessert.
Bread plates are always to the left of the dinner plate, glasses to the right. Butter knives can be placed atop the bread plate. Include one glass or goblet for water and another for wine. If you're planning a formal meal, it's thoughtful to include two wine glasses, one for white wine and another for red. Do not set out coffee cups; it is more elegant to bring them after the meal when serving dessert.
Be sure to include enough butter plates at the table. A good rule of thumb is to provide one butter plate for every four guests. You don't want your guests spending the entire evening passing around the butter plate and detracting from them making conversation.
Napkins should be placed either on the dinner plate or to the left of the plate past the utensils. Napkins may be folded in half or into a triangle shape or placed in a napkin ring aside the utensils. Those who are crafty may even know how to fold a bird shape or flower, in which case the plate's center is the best stage for the napkin. It's common for people to fold the napkin and place it under the forks, but this is incorrect. The first thing people do when sitting down to a meal is put their napkins on their laps. There is no reason to impede them by placing the napkin under their forks.
Be conservative with your place settings. Set only as many glasses and utensils as you need and space allows, depending on how casual or formal your meal may be. Try to avoid a cluttered table, which can make the table look and feel too crowded. If there isn't enough space for an item, bring out another utensil only when you need it.
Think of a theme. Holidays make for an easy theme, and seasons are also a lovely premise for decoration. For Thanksgiving, use autumnal- colored napkins, collect fall leaves from your yard and spread them on the table or purchase some bright gourds for a centerpiece. Summer, spring, fall or winter – it's fun to match your table to the time of year. In the spring, flowers from the garden look lovely floating in a bowl of water.
Also factor in the food you're serving, and match the d/cor to the cuisine. Use chopsticks and napkins with an Asian print when serving a Chinese dinner, or try Aztec-print place mats with a Mexican meal for a festive vibe.
Lastly, consider the occasion and decorate accordingly. Is this a casual get-together, a romantic meal, a dinner with the in-laws, or a celebration? If it's a romantic meal, surround a bouquet of roses with candles. If it's dinner with the in-laws, keep things formal. Getting together with friends can be very laid-back – it's OK to keep it casual.
By taking the time to plan and set a beautiful, elegant table, you'll add enjoyment to every meal. Don't rush it! A little preparation and planning can make even the most basic of dinners special and memorable.