How to Host a Formal Family Dinner

How to Host a Formal Family Dinner

Perhaps you haven’t been out to a nice restaurant in a long time and maybe your holiday gathering will be smaller than usual this year. Or if you’re like me, my husband and I both come from small families, so every other year it is just 5 of us gathering together.

Even though the celebration will be with few, it may be tempting to not enjoy a formal meal, but after this year, why not set the stage for a formal, fancy family dinner? It is not as time consuming as you may think and can be fun-filled instead of stressful!

No formal attire or formal invitations are necessary (unless you want to go all out!), just basic meal planning and table setting is required.


10 Steps to Set the Table

1. Spread a tablecloth on the table, cloth is preferable.

2. Place a dinner plate or charger (plate larger than a dinner plate) in front of each seat.

3. Place a salad plate, then a soup bowl on top of each charger or dinner plate. If you’re not serving soup, then just a salad plate.

4. Lay the folded napkin on the left side of the plate.

5. Put the larger dinner fork on top of the napkin next to the plate, then the smaller salad fork to the left of the dinner fork.

6. Place the knife next to the right side of the plate with the blade pointing towards the plate.

7. Put the spoon to the right of the knife. Make sure the utensils are lined up with the bottom of the plate.

8. Set a teaspoon-sized dessert spoon horizontally above the charger or dinner plate with the handle on the right side. The smaller dessert fork should be placed horizontally below the spoon with the handle on the left (opposite the spoon). If you’re using a place card, set it above the dessert spoon.

9. Set a smaller bread plate to the top left of the plate and napkin and lay a smaller bread knife across the plate horizontally with the blade pointing towards the napkin and the handle on the right side.

10. Set the water glass just above the dinner knife and place a wine glass to the right and slightly above the water glass.


Helpful Hints

Everything must be geometrically spaced. All places must be at equal distances and all plates and flatware lined up with each other. 

Take your table up a notch with cloth napkins & tablecloth.

To elevate the occasion further, set place cards (just folded card stock with names written creatively or neatly) and a centerpiece that is low enough to see over. An assortment of candles, dried or real flowers in a low dish. Even natural branches gathered from outside make a pretty and easy focal point for the table.


Plan the Meal

Depending on how much your little you cook doesn’t matter. You can make take-out look fancy by serving it in courses!

For the first course, it is typically something light to start the meal off. Salads or soup are typically served and those dishes cleared from the table (leaving the dinner plate or charger) before the next course. This also helps when you have a full table and don’t have room for all of the dishes.

The second course is the star of the show. Serve your main dish and several side dishes. We typically have the various dishes on the table and serve ourselves “family-style”, but you could also have plates dished up in the kitchen with set portions and brought to the table for this course.

The third course doesn’t necessarily have to be dessert (I’d have mutiny in my house if it wasn’t). Serving an assortment of cheese and fruit is lovely and if you’re not a baker and don't want to serve store-bought desserts, providing an assortment of high quality chocolate is also an easy and delicious way to end the meal. Coffee is typically served during this course as well.

Jennifer Smelker

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