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How To Set A Table

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Setting a table is a snap if you follow some simple guidelines, says Jennifer M. Purcell, Associate Dean of Restaurant Education and Operations at The Culinary Institute of America.

Table Setting Tips
She begins with a show plate, sometimes called a charger plate, which she places a 1/2 inch to an inch from the edge of the table. She says you only serve one course on a charger plate, then it's removed for the rest of the meal, but it makes a nice presentation for guests arriving at the table. First, she makes sure that her silverware and glassware are clean and polished. To avoid streaks and spots, she wipes them with a damp, low-lint cloth. The napkin can be placed on top of the plate for guests.

Next up, silverware. You want to start from the guest's right side, placing the first utensil about 1/2 inch to an inch from the plate. Place the silverware from the outside in as it's to be used -- so the main course silverware is closest to the plate, then salad forks or soup spoons on the outside. The water glass goes at 12 o'clock above your main course knife. If you're serving wine, the glass goes to the inside of the water glass. If you're serving two wines, white and red, the white wine glass would go next to the water glass, then the red wine glass to the inside of the white wine glass. If space on the table is tight, swing the red wine glass around to make a slight triangle. Bottom line: It's easy to set up a formal table that looks beautiful and gives diners the tools they need to enjoy your meal.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Jen Purcell from the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm going to show you this kitchen basic: how to set the table.

In setting the table for a dinner party, or just for every night's party, here are a few things to think about. If you're using a show plate - or a charger plate as they are sometimes called - you want to go about a thumbnail's length in from the edge of the table as the marking point for everything from your silver to your plateware. So about half an inch to an inch in from the edge of the table is appropriate. Your charger or your show plate will only stay down for one course, you may serve one course on this; after that, you will remove it for the rest of the meal.

Some key things to think of before you put your silver ware down: polish it! Give it a once-over. Same with glassware. Use a damp cloth, with a low lint preferably, just to give them a nice quick shine. Don't forget the base. Go through your glassware and your silverware before actually placing them on the table.

If you're not going to put anything else on your plate, you may just place the napkin right across the plate for your guests. With silverware, starting with the guest's right hand side, use the same rule of thumb: the silver for the main course goes about half an inch to an inch from the base of the table, and about half an inch out from your plate. And with silverware you eat from the outside in. If we're doing multiple courses you want to place the next course on the outside of the main course; here we have our salad fork and our appetizer-size knife. Again, the earlier courses are going to go to the outside of the main course silverware. If we had a soup course for our first course, I may start with a soup course spoon first; once we finish that course, that silverware would be gone.

As for glassware, you'll start with your water glass right at twelve o'clock above your main course knife. If you're serving wine, always think about which wine is going with which course. If with your appetizer you're having white wine, that glass will be your first glass to go down behind the water glass; if for the main course you want to serve a red wine, that one will go second behind the white wine glass. If space on the table is a little tight you can bring the red wine glass around and make a slight triangle.

So these are your basic principles for setting the table.