How to Set a Dinner Table Just Like British Royalty
Whether you're throwing a Downton Abbey-themed dinner or hosting a holiday event like the Duchess Kate, certain life moments call for ultra-formal table settings (although, we're all for unparalleled formality for the sake of fun). Though crafting a tablescape worthy of the royals undoubtedly takes more planning (and silver!) than your weekly potluck, it's not as inaccessible as you might think—especially if you heed the following streamlined tips from Myka Meier, founder of Beaumont Etiquette and author of Modern Etiquette Made Easy ($15.29, amazon.com). Here, everything you need to know about curating the dinner table you'd set if the Queen were coming over.
Begin with the basics.
Though British and American table settings play by their own set of rules, many of them overlap; forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right; glassware above the knives. Make sure the knife blades face the plate, and that all the silverware is evenly spaced and lined up at the bottom of the setting. Here's where the styles diverge: British settings don't include a plate or charger between the flatware (you actually place the folded napkin between the cutlery). And while American settings place dessert silverware above the plate, the Brits put dessert forks and knives on the sides of the plate (or leave them out entirely, instead setting those pieces after the main course is cleared).
Opt for an upscale menu.
Not every meal requires a formal place setting—so if you're trying to mimic the fanciest royal atmosphere you can envision, plan the menu accordingly and ensure your settings can accommodate each course. "Tables at Buckingham Palace are set for the formality of the meal, as well as the number of courses being served," says Meier, noting that "a filet mignon with asparagus lends itself to a more formal setting than BBQ ribs and corn on the cob."
Break out your best dishes.
Not even the royals use their heirloom pieces for every meal—but setting out your treasured china, sparkling crystal, and polished silver will give your event a more noble feel. "There are formal dishes that are exclusively for state events, as well as everyday dishes that the staff uses to set meals for the Queen and her family daily," says Meier. "If the Queen or another member of her family was coming to dinner, you would set your finest tableware, as it is a sign of respect and consideration."
Add a few gracious extras.
At formal events with eight or more people at a table, consider adding place cards—set above the dining plate—to create a more social atmosphere. "Place cards can be helpful to sit people in a strategic way to ensure lively conversation across the table," says Meier. She also recommends including several pairs of salt and pepper shakers so each guest can reach (or pass) them without leaning—and keeping the table less cluttered by waiting to set coffee cups, teacups, and saucers until dessert. But don't assume that more silverware means a more formal setting; you should only place pieces your guests will need. "If you're not serving soup, you wouldn't set the table with a soupspoon," says Meier. "If you incorrectly set the table, you are likely to confuse your guests."