Setting the Perfect Dining Table in 11 easy steps
My fascination for setting the table goes back many years when as a young cook, I faired rather poorly with cooking and once discussed with my grandmother, an exceptional cook, how will I get better? Her reply, presentation! All food tastes better when it is presented at its best, she said. My Grandmother had beautiful ceramics of which I have treasured pieces, and she had beautiful napery and tablecloths. Her meals ALWAYS went down well! I always felt so satisfied after eating even a vegemite sandwich at her place! And so began my journey and fascination with ceramics and dining table presentation.
There are so many components to creating the perfect Dining Table setting, delivering a seamless feel and presentation making you look like a pro!
It really doesn’t have to be a special occasion for a meal to be presented at the dining table.
Every meal we sit down to eat should be presented for enjoyment at any time and fulfill all the needs we desire. A full tummy of tasty food pleases not only ours stomachs but our emotional and psychological needs. It is very important to present food at it’s very best.
Several things need to be considered before we even get to the elements.
Ask yourself, who am I setting the table for? Family with young children? Adults only?
Do any of my guests have allergies? We wouldn’t want to include lilies in our centerpiece if we have a guest allergic to lilies!
Or one person may prefer English mustard while others prefer seeded mustard? How do we offer options without loads of jars that make your table look cluttered and untidy?
Are we preparing for a brunch on Sunday morning or are we doing an evening meal?
What elements do I need to consider that bring the whole experience together?
So, let’s start with the Elements. tables, chairs, ceramics, cutlery, glassware, napery, place mats, napkin rings, candles, decoration, family/friends
- The table: Investing in the right table for you and your family’s needs is very important. The table is the first and largest investment you are going to make so think about these things when choosing a dining table.
Different factors will determine your choices, your lifestyle and styling preferences, the size of your home, the number of family regularly eating together every day, what type of meals, what type of get togethers you have or would like to have with other family and friends.
All timber tables need to be cared for. I am a big fan of rattan placemats on the tables for two reasons, one being protecting the table and two, they give depth to your presentation. If the right table is out of reach right now, save up to get the right one. This is a very important investment so do it right for your needs when you can.
Large long solid tables say much about stability, comfort, and quality. There is room for each person, space to present food and room for a centerpiece. A 2metre long x 1metre wide sits 6 people comfortably or 8 people with food presentation at the buffet or kitchen bench.
The long tables are great for dinners.
Remember, you might be choosing for what you do now but think about what you would love to be able to do and sometimes it comes down to the size of the table!
Round tables are also good for pleasant interaction. No one is too far away. 1.2metre round table seats 4 people comfortably, with 5, again food presentation would be better at the buffet or kitchen bench. Larger sizes like 1.6 or 1.8 if want to serve to more people comfortably.
Personally, I like round tables for breakfasts and lunch or an afternoon tea type situation but can equally be a dinner affair too.
Alfresco Dining is so much a part of our Australian way of life. We love to barbeque, and we love eating outdoors. There are not many options with Alfresco dining tables.
Teak is great but does need care to maintain, and then there is Aluminum which is easy to maintain and light to move around a big plus.
We have styled our Alfresco tables with what I call Heritage overtones, enabling this style to fit many different home designs. Easy care and ready to go for set up in minutes!
2.The Dining Chair: my goodness, where do I start? Dining Chairs give personality to your dining setting. Your table can be made to look traditional, coastal, contemporary, casual, formal…. another important investment to consider.
Dining Chairs also need to compliment or fit with the rest of the décor of the home or setting. They need to be comfortable to sit while dining, they need to be the right height for sitting at the table, too low is most uncomfortable.
If you have family or guests that need a bit more height, adding a cushion gets around that problem. Also great for wooden chairs so long dining experiences can be made comfortable.
When adding dining chair cushions, again these can change the feel also. For example, an afternoon lunch with check dining cushions creates a different atmosphere to black cushions for a dinner setting.
Think about the main use you will have for dining, the main users of the chairs and select according to the needs you have and the needs to you wish to fulfill in the future.
Some Dining Chairs are very expensive and for good reason! So, select what is right for you and save if necessary to get the right ones.
One thing I will add, we at Pieces of Joy have these very handy inexpensive fold away bamboo chairs. Wonderful for added seating when extra guests come, they may not suit a very formal setting, but they do go with many settings and are a great option for standby seating.
3.Ceramics: my goodness, what a difference your ceramics makes to how your food looks and tastes! Following in my grandmothers’ footsteps, I have several dinner sets, plates, bowls and serving platters.
I am quite particular about certain ceramics for certain times of the day, meal types and particular food.
Other elements that I consider are also indoors or out?
It is truly wonderful going to the cupboard to select the right plates and bowls for the dining experience we are about to have.
So, when it comes to you selecting your collection, think about firstly what you have.
If you have white ceramics, then what you can do is add some special bowls or cups/saucers or bread and butter plates that bring a different element to your dining. For example, our Busy Bee bowls and bread and butter plates go beautifully with plain white plates if you’re serving honey on crumpets for breakfast and muesli with tea and coffee! Throw in a glass of orange juice, add some bamboo cutlery…and breakfast looks great!
Or maybe you have kids that struggle with eating and something for them to look forward to when they eat is revealed once all consumed! Our White with Bamboo Trim collection goes so well with plain white and equally with patterned ceramics, again depending on the style of food you are presenting.
A French style afternoon tea in the garden requires soft and delicate ceramics for tea/coffee, cake, and little sandwiches.
A full-on pasta meal with salads for a family and friends around your large table will present very differently with large platters and generous pasta bowls with colour and texture!
You don’t have to buy everything at once, you keep adding to your collection in ways that give you the versatility but expands your offerings to cater for what you do now and what you would like to do in the future.
Don’t be afraid to use patterned ceramics. They add diversity to your food presentation, they add colour and texture and subtle associations that very few people understand.
All these elements coming together expand the experience.
All that happens when done well, is this…. oh, my goodness that was delicious! Oh, my goodness…. this looks so beautiful! Oh, my goodness…...that was amazing! Family and friends are literally blown away when you carefully put all these elements together and think about who you are delivering this meal too.
4.Cutlery: now there is cutlery, and there is CUTLERY! Plenty of inexpensive options on the market for you to start with however, with wanting to deliver that feel all the way through, cutlery plays an important part.
Your cutlery should not only look good, but it should also suit the Ceramics, it should suit the type of food you are eating, and it should be comfortable to use.
We here in Australia like to take the formal and make it a little more Australian which is a slightly more casual feel to our dining experiences. Different cutlery is going to go with different settings and food types, and it is handy to have different ones for certain meals and types of food you are serving. For example, our Bamboo Handled cutlery which is gorgeous, goes with nearly every setting and food type. Australia is such a fortunate country in that we have Italian, Greek, Asian and English influences, not to mention other European cultures like French cuisine, South American influences…the choices are seriously endless! So, to have one cutlery set that goes across such a variety of food, we here at Pieces of Joy came up with the Bamboo Handled cutlery! It’s a good start and a great option for our Australian way of eating. So that’s a start. You do need to hand wash but a small sacrifice for the presentation your cutlery will give you!
5.Glassware: So much depends on what you are drinking! White and Red wine glasses, self-explanatory. Some of us like beautiful glassware and to be honest, a good wine in a beautifully designed glass, well what can I say! Investing in good glassware is another important addition to your dining presentation. Always wash good glassware by hand. Dishwashers can be hard on fine and delicate wine glasses.
I like to offer at the table, tumblers for water. Always have water on offer to your family and friends. When adding these other elements, again consider the overall effect of the table. Do they blend into the overall scheme? Present in a carafe or jug and preferably on the table or if room not available, on the side buffet or somewhere near the table. Add some slices of lemon or orange to present it more beautifully, a couple of mint leaves also adds that slight freshness. It’s interesting how much more water is consumed when presented beautifully and easily available.
Many South American and European table settings present coloured and patterned glassware alongside their clear high-quality glassware. They add interest and texture and depth to your table setting and a bit of fun!
6.Napery: many options are available and most certainly affect the tone of your table presentation.
White cotton napkins are a good place to start.
They are easily cleaned with a spray (found in your local supermarket), a soak and a wash on a regular basis. If you have used them with a tomato based pasta, then once the meal is over, spray your napkins and put aside for a few minutes then pop in a small wash. They will come as good as new! It’s when you leave them for the sauce to dry out that stains get much harder to remove.
Linen napkins are marvelous for using with greasy food. The texture in the fabric enables your hands to be completely wiped and again, easy to clean with easily available sprays, soaked and washed.
Coloured or patterned napkins to go with what you are serving, your ceramics and overall theme are also wonderful options.
Then there are paper napkins that can also be handy to suit your setting. These can sit in a napkin tidy on the table. Thrown away of course so no cleaning!
Tablecloths are another great option to add something special to your presentation, or you may have a table that is a bit rough, then a tablecloth can hide a multitude of disasters underneath! A tablecloth can add richness, a casual French feel or sophistication as well as being practical. Washing and ironing is the price you pay but well worth it for certain occasions.
7.Placemats: these to me are a vital element in not only protecting your table but I also like the depth and layering that can be achieved with placemats. We at Pieces of Joy like the rattan placemats. They come round, square and rectangle. Really easy to maintain with soapy water and a brush. Once you have invested in these you will have them a long time! They last a very long time so well worth the investment. I like them for casual and dinner presentations equally.
There are other options available like fabric placemats etc and once again, depends on the look and feel you are wanting to achieve. Worth having a good think about what you’d like and how your other items fit into the whole scheme of table setting.
8.Napkin Rings: Lovely white cotton napkins in napkin holders that are fitting to the design of your table setting, is simple yet so inviting. I find this an inexpensive little luxury that defines you table setting. So much can be achieved with these little things! They set the tone, they complement the meal or the ceramics. They are such little gems in building your dining table story.
9.Candles and Candle Holders: these are little gems of magic too! Light, living moving flame creates atmosphere like nothing else. We use at Pieces of Joy, artificial candles and other forms of lighting that are safe but magical. I simply love what a table setting brings with candle holders or candle motives giving off light and movement.
Choose what goes with the rest of scheme. Gold or silver? Candle holders or just candles? Timber or metal with diamantes or maybe the Candelabra is what you need for this table setting. So many options and seriously, you can be as simple as a couple of artificial candles. The choice is fortunately huge!
So imagine, you have had a stressful day, you arrive home to unwind and all you feel like doing it crashing into bed with no dinner or you want to head to the drinks cabinet! You walk into the home, there is a beautiful smell of cooked food and you glance over at the table, it is set for dinner with everything ready to go, the candles are lit, the plates are set, the napkins are placed and all looks divine with the world! All you need do is change, wash and sit down to spend time with family, share the day and rejuvenate. It really does do this for your loved ones. You may not be the best cook but hey, you present your table, and your family and friends will no only love it, but it will heal them, it will rejuvenate them and the world is a better place when we sit and share a meal together that is not only nourishing but beautifully presented.
10.Decoration: so many options! What we want to achieve is the feel and the marrying between the food we are eating and the elements that support that food.
Flowers in a vase, which flowers? What colours? Which vase is right? Play around with different things to get the idea of what will be right for this setting. Bring out elements in the ceramics, or bring our elements in the food, add little pots of greenery with your candles, add shells if serving seafood. To achieve layers, you can use things like placemats, glass mirrored trays, add coasters underneath vases and candles etc.
One thing you do need to remember, you want to see the person on the other side of the table! That is why I design high vases and high candleholders. It does add some dramatic effect also, but the main reason is for vision through the decoration!
11.Family and Friends: And finally, as we mentioned in the beginning of this article, who are you setting your table for? Why are you doing it?
Well, it is for the benefit of the people you care about. You can show care for these people. You can show love. You can think about them and focus on all the aspects above to suit a particular family member or group of friends. It shows you listen and you it’s a way to give.
You can cook what a family member or friend likes. Nothing says more than the effort you make to prepare and present a meal for someone special. It’s simply kind and it’s caring.
So much is shared around the table. So many memorable and valuable moments as we relax to enjoy what we all have to do every day, eat!
Turn off the TV, set the table and get the whole family to sit together. Presenting it to be so inviting, even the most difficult of teenagers will succumb to the routine. You get to know each other.
When you go to the trouble to prepare food or even bring in takeaway, food presented to delight and enrich your family and friends, well it is all worth the trouble. It is kind, it is likely old fashioned, but it is definitely a very valuable gift you can give.
You are giving them more than just food.
You are nourishing them both physically and emotionally. It’s a troubled world out there and simple gestures around food and table presentation heals our loved ones.
And of course, the other bonus, your cooking will taste better!! That builds confidence in you and encourages you to cook more often. It also makes you feel good!