The French way of table setting

In 2010, UNESCO declared the gastronomic meal of the French a “World Intangible Heritage”. It is described as “a festive meal bringing people together for an occasion to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking”. It is also stated that “the setting of a beautiful table” is one of the major elements of the French meal.

In short : a great meal is a combination of good eating and drinking, as well as a nice table setting. Good food, a pleasant conversation, a great interaction between guests are some of the many factors contributing to a successful dinner. Table setting is definitely a large determining factor too.

Setting the scene for what has been cooked is undoubtedly an integral part of the meal and establishes the tone of a party. Make a table a feast for the eyes and an inviting setting for the guests to enjoy the food.

When it comes to table setting, it is crucial to set a table according to the situation or the occasion. There is a table setting for every occasion: a business elegant dinner, an informal dinner with family, a casual dinner with friends or a romantic date.

Here are a few basic tips to set a dining table the French way:

  • One way to approach a table setting is to evaluate what tableware you have already in your cupboards. The current vogue is very much to ‘mix and match’ so don’t feel like you have to restrict yourself to formal matching tableware. You can experiment.
  • Each dinner plate should be remotely centred in front of a chair, and lined up with the one across from it. There should be about 50 to 60 cm between each plate, so that your guests have ample space to manipulate their cutlery.
  • Knives are to be placed on the right side of the plate together with the soup spoon if any. Forks are to be placed on the left side of the plate while the cheese knife and dessert spoon go on top of the plate. The knife blade should be turned inside/towards the plate and fork teeth facing down. The British however place the forks with teeth up. The reason for French and British operating differently here is due to ancient traditions, the French having their family crests engraved on the back of the cutlery while the British used to engrave them on the opposite side.
  • You may want to add a bread-and-butter plate which will have to sit above the forks, to the left of the place setting
  • Glasses are placed on the top right hand corner of the plate, from the smallest to the tallest, with a 45 degree angle.
  • Napkins have to be placed on the left of the fork/plate, folded in rectangle. No napkins in glasses!
  • Use cangle lights to create a warm atmosphere. You may want to lower the intensity of the electric lighting around you as well.
  • Flowers. Get some fresh flowers and display them in a vase in the centre of your table, Or display smaller stem vases in various locations of your table.

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French Table Setting


Photo credit Pinterest and Pezcame