If you’re a newlywed, or living on your own and are afraid to entertain in a semi-formal setting because you aren’t sure how to set a table… this post is for you. I’ll show you how to set an easy, elegant grown-up table without a lot of fuss. But first… a background story. Feel free to skip over it.
We just celebrated Easter, and usually, we have dinner with a large crowd, but this Easter, my parents came to visit, and my husband and I decided we wanted to keep things easy, elegant, and simple. My parent’s drive is about 6 hours, and my father just turned 80, so it can be a pretty tiring drive, and we don’t know if this might be their last visit, or if they still have many visits ahead, so I wanted to take advantage of this holiday and just enjoy their company, and the meal as a family meal.
My mom, sister, and I all enjoy pretty, elegant, fancy-pants things. The difference between us is, my mom and sister are fancy-pants (they love sterling silver place settings and candlesticks, fancy chandeliers, fine, fine china, crystal, antique linens, etc.), and I’m more practical. I hate polishing silver, starched linens, and fine china tends to break in my hands. But still, I love “pretty,” and “fancy,” and “elegant.” I just do it more practically.
At this dinner, I decided to do “simple pretty.” I forgot to get a centerpiece for the dining room table, and since Easter was so early, my neighbor’s lilacs, peonies, tulips, or any other flowers, hadn’t bloomed yet, so there were no flowers that I could steal for the table. I was going to use the adorable Easter cake my mother-in-law made for my son as a center piece when it dawned on me… I can use a mason jar full of fake flowers from one of my guest bedrooms. I added some branches with green leaves budding from the yard to freshen it up. I figured that no one would care, because my guests are my mom (who gave me the flowers) and my dad, husband, and son… who are men and could care less what’s on the table other than food.
First, I want to start with the “bones.” It doesn’t matter if you have a hand-me-down table, a garage-sale table, or a piece of wood balanced on two saw horses… the first thing you need is a table cloth. You can find inexpensive ones at Walmart, Target, TJMaxx, Ross, or HomeGoods, but the best place is … your mom or grandma’s closet. My tablecloth was my Abuelita’s. My mom gave it to me when we bought our first home, and I cherish it. If you can’t get your hands on a table cloth, use a scrap of fabric or even a white sheet! Anything is possible. I also love to use cloth napkins for special occasions. It just brings a special feeling to even the simplest of tables. I love the quality of the napkins from Target (they are thick and only need a light press) and love the colors and prints that Pier 1 sells.
Remember when I said I hated to polish silver? It’s true, but silver looks so pretty on a table, so what can you do??? Use the next best thing… Mercury glass candlesticks. They only require dusting… gotta love it. Just be careful, because they ARE fragile. You can find them at TJMaxx, HomeGoods, Tuesday Mornings, and even at Joann’s Fabrics during the holidays. Notice a trend? Yes — discount stores!!
And, talking about practical — see those cute little birds??? They are salt and pepper shakers… they add whimsy to the table, and I love that they are different than the normal salt and pepper shakers! Everyone loves them. I got them at Pier 1 Imports.
Finally, the plates and flatware. Long ago, my sister gave me a great set of stainless flatware for Christmas. If you have to invest in anything, invest in a heavy, high-quality set of 18-10 stainless flatware. They wash well, don’t rust, and will last you a lifetime. You can use them in a casual setting or a fancy setting. I have twelve of each piece and use them for cookouts, Superbowl, parties, everyday dinner, etc. It has saved me so much money on the constant cost of the purchase of plastic flatware!
These particular dishes were given to me by my mom as a Christmas gift several years ago. They are made by Lenox and are called Butterfly Meadows. They are the china I like to use in the spring and summer for obvious reasons, and they are tough! And practical! Most fine china can’t be washed in the dishwasher… THIS CAN! Thank you, Lenox, I love you!!! I love that all the plates have different prints on them, and they are even oven and microwave safe. My aunt has this set also and uses it every day.
Most china manufacturers make a line called “casual china” and can be found either online or in stores like Bed Bath and Beyond. This china can be washed in the washing machine but is finer than everyday dishes. The bread plates are made by Crate and Barrel. It’s a little appetizer plate, and I like to mix and match. An easy way to remember what side the bread plate goes on is if you make a lower case “b” and “d” with your hands (pointer fingers up and other fingers curled to your thumbs like you’re directing a choir), you’ll see that the “b” is on the left for a bread plate and the “d” is on the right for the drink. Easy peasy!
So here are some pictures of the table put together. Fork on the left, knife on the right. Napkin usually goes on the left either to the left of the napkin or under the napkin (I put it on the plate as bunny ears). Bread plate on the left, drink on the right. Instead of using a stick of butter, I just used an ice cream scoop of soft butter in a small white dish and a scoop of apricot jam in another one. It turned out elegant, but it was super simple and easy. If you’ve never had a “formal” dinner, you should try it. Begin with just one couple, make it simple, and give yourself grace. I know you can do it!