It seems like, even with the best intentions, few families set the table with placemats and napkins and salad forks except for special occasions. An unofficial poll reveals that Christmas dinner and the Thanksgiving feast rank as the two meals that earn sit-down status, and the accompanying equipment.
A formal dinner setting includes a lot of parts and generates an incredible amount of dishes, especially if you are serving a dozen or more diners. But cleanup be damned; let the men do the dishes! We couldn't resist the opportunity to create a proper place setting with an autumnal feel.
You can, of course, use whatever parts you like and no one will call the silverware police. A fully set table, with gleaming flatware and glinting crystal, is a welcoming sight and tells your visitors that they are honored guests.
And it's a fat-free indulgence.
• Click here for a step-by-step guide to setting the holiday table.
What you absolutely need: A big plate and a big napkin and a fork and a knife. And a glass. If you don't have cloth napkins, invest in a big package of those nice, thick paper dinner napkins. They are quite luxurious.
It won't hurt to check your silverware for water spots ... and to remove them.
The stack of dishes starts with a charger on the bottom. Chargers are the first thing to eliminate if you want to scale back. They are fun and fancy, but utterly unnecessary. If you like the idea, you can pay lots or you can buy shiny acrylic ones for $1.99.
Our stack includes a big white dinner plate for the main meal. This is the one you want if you have nothing else. A nice dinner plate.
On top of that is a salad plate duo, a burgundy red plate holding a vintage leaf-shaped salad plate. If you are serving a salad course, it's nice to have a salad fork. The salad forks are the shorter ones and may have fewer tines than a dinner fork.
The salad plate can also sit above the forks to the left of the place setting. But room is usually at a premium on the Thanksgiving table, so we stacked.
On top of all that is a small soup bowl. Because if you serve soup in a big bowl, you are just asking for everyone to be full before the turkey is even on the table. So soup: just a taste. But with its own spoon, of course! And since it's the first course, put the spoon on the outside. But you already knew that.
For beverages, you need a wine glass or two, depending on how wine-y you are. Be sure to add a water goblet or glass. Serve chilled water in a nice pitcher. You can add slices of lemon -- or cucumber, which is kind of in now -- for an inexpensive touch of elegance.
If you serve dessert right after dinner, without a break for a walk (OK, we really mean nap), add a cup and saucer to your place setting. That goes along with the dessert fork and spoon positioned at the top of the plate.
Once your servants whisk away the dinner plates and silverware after the feast (I know -- I could hardly say that with a straight face), the dessert implements are right there.
All too much? Just remember this: The knife and spoons go on the right. The fork goes on the left. The napkin goes on the left. The glasses are positioned above the knife and spoon.
Still too much? Just take a moment to reflect on the good things in life, to be thankful, before you grab that turkey leg.
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