Do It Together: Setting the Table

The holiday entertaining season is upon us. Families and friends seem to make an extra effort this time of year to share a meal together. Take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company and make a resolution in the coming year to eat with your kids more often. Studies abound that support the value of parents sitting down to eat a meal with their children. When families gather around the dinner table, grades go up, kids are better adjusted, are less likely to be depressed, and are less likely to do drugs, drink alcohol, or have sex. A casual conversation across an open pizza box isn’t too difficult to arrange and qualifies as dinner with your kids. But consider occasionally having a more formal family meal and let the kids help bring it all together. It starts with teaching them how to set the table.

Kids as young as age 5 can help you set the table. By age 7, they should know how to properly set the table. If it’s been a while since you broke out the plates and flatware to dine, here are some cute tricks to help everyone learn the proper technique.

• Learn left from right: Forks go to the left of the plate—the word “fork” has four letters, as does the word “left.” Therefore, Left=Fork. Knife and spoon go to the right of the plate—“knife” and “spoon” each have five letters; the word “right” has five letters. Right=Spoon, Right=Knife.

• It’s “okay” to go here: Here’s a trick from Emily Post, the famous doyenne of manners. Make two “OK” symbols with your hands—thumb and pointer touching, other three above. The left hand looks like a little “b,” so put the bread (b) plate on the left. The right hand looks like a little “d” which is short for drink, so put the glass to the right.

• First, do no harm: Knives go immediately next to the plate; the spoon protects the knife from doing any mischief. The knife is safely wedged in, with the cutting edge placed towards the plate, away from the spoon.

• No loneliness here: Napkins go with the forks to keep the forks from getting lonely since the spoon and the knife get to hang out together. Napkins can go next to the fork, under the fork, or even on top of the plate.

This is a breakdown of placement for a basic table setting. More formal meals with multiple courses require more implements, but they are all just an expansion from this basic layout. Additional utensils are placed in order of use, beginning from the outside. So, if you’ll be having a salad and dessert, for instance, the salad fork would be on the outside, left of the plate, then the dinner fork, then the dessert fork. Similarly, for a soup course, the soup spoon would go on the outside of the spoon and knife on the right side of the plate.

The main plate of each setting should be about two inches from the table’s edge and centered directly in front of the chair. All the flatware is then evenly spaced around the plate.

Make setting the table fun as your kids are learning. Buy funky dinner napkins or let them choose a unique centerpiece for the table each night. Emily Post offers a terrific website for teaching manners to kids and her post on “How to set the table” is one of the most popular areas on that site. Check out for a printable placemat guide.

Teach the kids table-setting techniques now, and while you’re busy preparing the joyful feast this holiday season, you can put the kids in charge of setting the dinner table.

Laura Amann is a freelance writer who not only celebrates her daughter’s birthday in December, but four other family members’ birthdays as well.

Filed Under: Do It Together

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