A host can easily become consumed by the art de la table, menu, and music, forgetting that their guests primarily attend the event to enjoy the host’s company. Ultimately, what matters is to be present and appreciate each circumstance that allows us to connect!
While researching how to set the table, you can find myriad sources in print or online that confuse you instead of helping you. I have culminated the key information that has always come through when I have hosted friends and family.
Setting up the table is an art, similar to scenography. The menu is like a stage upon which the meal will “perform.” I have outlined below an indicative menu that will serve as a beginner’s guide to creating a menu.
Note: A menu can reach 5-6 dishes. However, unless for a degustation night that requires several dishes, I do not recommend such a long menu, since it is time-consuming and tires our guests.
Types of menus and serving
1st Menu: 3 dishes
1st plate: Appetizer (salad, soup, or cold appetizer)
2nd plate: Main course (fish, meat, or pasta)
3rd plate: Dessert or fruit
2nd Menu: 4 dishes
1st plate: Salad, soup, or cold appetizer
2nd plate: Cold appetizer or warm pasta
3rd plate: Fish or meat
4th plate: Dessert or fruit
3rd Menu: Buffet
In this case, all the dishes are served, from appetizers to desserts, on a specially designed buffet table. The plates are usually stacked at the beginning of the table, with the cutlery wrapped in a linen or thick paper towel.
Alternatively, the plates can be placed on the table as usual. In this case, guests can go to the buffet with the plate on their seats.
Tip: have extra plates in case someone wants a second round!
4th Menu: Family style
The “family style menu” is reminiscent of a Sunday dinner where the whole family gathers around the table, and grandmothers and aunts bring homemade delicacies. The food is placed at the center of the table, and all family members share it.
You can apply this intimate, family-style menu at other small gatherings but also at formal events when their setting permits it (in the countryside).
Tip: At most formal gatherings, the first snacks, salads, and cold appetizers are placed at the center of the table, while the main course is served to each guest.
5th Menu: Seated and served on a plate
A waiter stands at the left of each guest with each dish placed on a large platter. Each guest serves themselves the amount they want.
This seated-and-served-on-a-plate style is also known as the French way of serving. Its variant is the English way, in which the waiter serves the guests.
Before your event, I encourage you to decide:
- How much wine you will have. Water and wine are always served at a dinner. A different setup is required, though, when there is a choice of wines and when the wine of choice changes in the middle of the meal.
- If you will provide a saucer of bread. (Usually, you should).
- If you will serve champagne. If yes, will the glasses be on the table from the beginning of the dinner, or will they arrive later with more drinks?
- What the desserts will be.
- If you will serve fruit.
* The table’s setup depends on the answers to the questions above.
- There are 35 types of forks and 31 types of spoons.
- Louis XIV forbade using sharp knives on the table due to riskiness and replaced them with the wide and less sharp knives we use today.
- Science claims that silver cutlery gives a better taste to our food.