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Black Tie For Dinner

May 19, 2015

Sharing meals, even since the beginning of time, has always been a gesture of friendship. As time goes on, the presentation of delicacies on our dining tables, the utensils we use to eat them or even the rules of how to use them have been converted into a fine art. Even in the highest noble ancestry, a member’s education and culture is measured based on their knowledge of the protocols which are expected and demanded around a table. We can however observe that protocol is based on traditional formalities, even though in some cases this is also evolving.

It is true that we continuously strive to set a beautiful table, but we still have trouble doing it or maybe don’t know how. A beautifully set table is the final touch to a wonderful meal.

A simple meal could change itself in to a charming one, just by transforming our table in to something more suggestive and different. A combination of glasses, different dinner services, well-placed napkins, flowers, candles…….playing around with the table linen, adding some touches of green…..

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  Keeping in mind the types of tables available,round tables are ideal for encouraging flowing conversation, as long as the group doesn’t exceed 10 people. For larger groups an oval table is preferable. A table without corners is always favorable for promoting conversation amongst guests.

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Tablecloths

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Large, hanging tablecloths (30cm from the floor) are great for the overall look of the table, giving it an elegant and distinguished look. Colours should be kept neutral or white. A great tip is to place a soft, thick material onto the table before placing the tablecloth to help drown out the noise of the plates and to protect the varnish. You could even place plastic above the material to protect the table against possible stains from wine spills.

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NAPKINS

Napkins should be big and made of the same material or a match to the tablecloth. If the tablecloth is made of lace then the napkins should incorporate lace in one of the corners or have some kind of decorative lace.

They should be doubled rectangularly or triangularly and placed on top of the dishes or to the left of them, next to the cutlery. There are many ways to fold napkins, (mitra, cone, flower etc.) but they are not thought of as being very elegant. It also means the napkins have to be handled more, which also makes them unhygienic. Austerity is elegance. Under no circumstances is it recommended to use paper napkins at a formal meal, even though this type of meal is now more generalised, paper napkins are not acceptable whilst following general protocol.

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To set the table, the first thing you should do is choose a dinner service which, for its shape or colour, suits your taste. You should then find appropriate tablecloths and napkins for the occasion, which don’t clash with the plates. Glassware and cutlery should also complement all the other elements of the table.

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Following, are two basic rules about setting cutlery on the table.

Forks are always placed on the left of the plate, placing knives and spoons on the right

Cutlery is set in the order in which they will be used. The furthest from the plate being the first to be used and the closest, the last.

 It’s important to remember that a table will not be viewed as being more elegant just for having more glasses or cutlery, therefore it’s essential to reduce the number of them and be certain to only use those which are necessary.

Don’t forget that an ordered and harmonious distribution of dinnerware, along with other accessories and decoration, will give it just the right touch and will create a delightful ambient for our meals.

 You should also keep in mind that the correct distribution of our table for each person should consist of a napkin, cutlery, dishes and glasses. A complete set of cutlery should contain steak knives or main course knives, fish, dessert and butter knives, soup, dessert, tea and mocha spoons; steak, fish and dessert forks.

 The following pieces are also necessary: special forks, fish slices and knives for specific foods, a three pronged fork for oysters, fish cocktails, asparagus (less common) ; rounded spoons for consommé: ice cream spoons, two pronged tongs and forks for snails, amongst others.

The quality of the cutlery will depend on the importance of the event. Logically, silver is the best choice, however nowadays practical cutlery like stainless steel is both accessible and hygienic. It is available in some very attractive and great quality designs which will make your table look great.

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This photo shows a classic table setting of both cutlery and dinnerware.

Dinnerware:

 You can use three types of dishes. Flat (for general use), deep (soups and broths) and smaller flat plates (desserts). The only plate that should be on the table is that which will be used first, which will later be replaced with the next. In all cases, the plates which are used as the base plates, on which all courses will be served, should be of a greater diameter and should bring to the table an ornamental effect. These should be left on the table as a base throughout the meal to serve upon all the other plates for each course. They are also an excellent way to never leave the tablecloth showing throughout the meal. It’s also important to remember that a flat plate should never be placed onto another flat plate, nor a rounded directly on top of the tablecloth, in this case a flat plate should be placed below the rounded plate.

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A white porcelain dinner service, a crisp white tablecloth and quality glassware are classics when it comes to setting an elegant dining table.

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For contrast, square plates with black motifs and some original looking glassware can also be used to create a classic, yet modern and elegant dining table. Try to add a personal touch with some flowers or decoration.

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Don’t forget that an original centre piece will give your table the perfect touch.

 A great dinner service will serve to enhance the cutlery and glassware at a formal dinner, in the same way as the tablecloths. For an informal meal amongst friends, maybe in the garden or on a terrace, you could use a modern dinner set, more daring, but under no circumstances should plastic sets be used.

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A complete dinner set should count on, at the least, salad bowls, platters of different shapes and sizes, serving cups for consommé and their plates, soup bowls and large flat plates to serve different types of fish etc among others.

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The resting plate is used as a decorative element. Even though it is un-necessary, it is now very fashionable to use, especially in luxury restaurants. If you have them, it’s a great way to add a touch of refined sophistication to your table. You should remember to clear them away before desert is served or at the end of the meal if the guests prefer.

The resting plate (base plate) could also even be covered with a fine rounded cloth in a white or neutral colour with delicate detailing. It should always have a larger diameter than the dinnerware dishes.

If coffee is to be served at the table, the mugs should always match the rest of the dinner service. If however it is to be served in another room or in the living room, it doesn’t matter that the coffee set is different or that the liqueur cups don’t match the glasses which were used throughout the meal.

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If you want to organise a meal or formal dinner it’s important to know which accessories to use on the table and how to arrange them so as everything turns out the way you would like.

Salt and pepper shakers as well as vinegar bottles, if something needs to be dressed, should be placed strategically on the table. Some butter dishes could also be placed within easy reach for guests so as they don’t have to go to any trouble to reach them.

It’s also important to remember that, in keeping with protocol, smoking should not be permitted during the meal and is considered a sin against gastronomy. Ashtrays should only ever be placed on the tables if you are certain that incorrigible smokers will inevitably violate the rule.

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If you would like to place floral decorations they should be of a reduced size and esthetically pleasing. It’s not a great idea that your guests can’t see or speak to each other comfortably due to the decoration. Gastronomy experts are also dead against this type of decoration on dining tables as the aroma from the flowers affects their appreciation of wines and delicacies. A different possibility is to use porcelain, silver or ceramic centrepieces.

Candelabras should only be used for dinners and should be lit once sat at the table. Often, light from the candles is not enough so should be complimented with other appropriate lighting.

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Don’t overload the table. Make it comfortable and above all practical. Don’t allow the decorations to become a disturbance. A lot of the time, through simply distributing carefully glass bottles, gravy boats and butter dishes gracefully, it is enough to complete the decorative effect of the table.

by Elia Requena

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