24 May

Forks on the left

Here’s how to do a standard table setting.

  • Position your table in the room. (Don’t do the chairs yet: it’s easier without them.)[1]
  • Spread your tablecloth out (if you’re using one) and make sure that it hangs evenly on all sides.[2]
  • If you have some kind of festive centrepiece, centre it next.
  • Create one spot for each diner around the table. (Mark them with Christmas crackers.).
  • Put the cutlery in hot water and pull each piece out and polish it dry with a tea towel[3] as you set it. (Forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right. Put the cutlery for the first course down – level with the table edge is usually best – put the cutlery for second course the inside that and keep going till you run out of courses.)
  • Polish the glasses with a dry tea towel[4] and lay those out. (Above the cutlery, on the right.)
  • Put the napkins in the centre of the plate setting (or in the glass if you prefer).[5]
  • Crackers can be moved to the top of the napkin or along the top of the place setting or piled in a jumble in the middle of the table: wherever you think they look good.[6]
  • Position anything that needs to go in the centre of the table: condiments,[7] water jugs, wine coasters, bowls of nuts and lollies.
  • Finally, move the chairs into place.

So that’s everything you need and we’ll talk another day about style, décor and folderols.[8]

24 may 2016.jpg
Seven, eight – lay them straight.

Christmas Day 1970: “We’ll just have a cup of tea,” was the next delay to opening the presents and the Christmas cake was cut with a fanfare[9] and served with tea for the adults and milk for the children. This was nothing compared to a normal day (sandwiches followed by three kinds of cake and four kinds of biscuit) but the adults were saving themselves for the feast and we children had already eaten half of our stocking lollies so we weren’t hungry.[10] “Hurry UP!” we said.

[1] It’s also easier without toddlers but this is not always possible.

[2] This can take longer than you anticipate so you may choose to change the end point from “tweak until perfect” to “tweak until you run out of patience”.

[3] This is not necessary (or advisable) if you’re using plastic cutlery.

[4] Again, this is not needed for disposable “glass”ware.

[5] You can fold them into fans or opera houses or flying Rudolphs, but plain triangles are usually fine because the serviettes are not likely to be the wow factor on a Christmas table.

[6] The etiquette guides are more flexible on crackers than they are on fish knives!

[7] As a small boy, my nephew Jack wanted tomato sauce on everything. Wendy refused to let him have it with his Christmas dinner but he’d try to sneak it onto the table ahead of time, once disguising it in a cranberry sauce jar (which was not a successful ploy: Wendy can tell cranberries from ketchup from a mile away).

[8] No-one talks about folderols nearly enough any more. (I blame politics.)

[9] Although pedants will say it was cut with a knife.

[10] But milk is a good antidote to a surfeit of confectionery and it gave Peter a second wind which allowed him to polish off the last of his jubes which pleased him. (The year before, he had hoarded his sweets and, when Auntie Pat found that he still had three packets left in January, she made him share them with his siblings. The injustice of that still rankled with him.)

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