I Can't Even...
by Sara "Zarine" Jessop
This weekend, like many of you, I traveled to the lands of Rhiassa for the annual Feast of The Leviathan. I was pleased to find a plethora of good manners and fancy dress. People were on their very best behavior it seemed. I even overheard many people who you would never expect speaking of fashion! I was having a wonderful time catching up with friends and listening to people enjoying themselves. I could see and hear my influence all around me and I felt such pride in you all, but mostly in myself for being such a good purveyor of advice.
|Photo by Jason "Hat Dad" Rosa|
I was a little disappointed when I first got to our table to discover that there was already a sprinkling of crumbs and globs of various butters smeared across the tablecloth. The general population has made vast improvements on their attire but clearly not in their ability to masticate without making a mess. Of course matters were not helped by the lack of a bread plate. My spirits were lifted when the first course arrived: breakfast. I love breakfast foods. Every meal should be breakfast. Sir Gwen knows what's up.
As I tried to negotiate with the worlds thickest syrup to leave it's container without having to change my clothing yet again after another sticky mess I noticed something quite upsetting: The salt and pepper shakers were mismatched. Now, dear reader, there are certain things that hold us together as a civilized society. Moral and intellectual advancement, cultural richness, and matching salt and pepper shakers.
I reported the offense to multiple people who seemed like they could be in charge of such things and was offered no relief from my discomfort. In fact, they looked at me as if I was the crazy one! Clearly they had no idea how important such things are. It's as if no one in the Realms has ever set a table for a classy dinner party before. Meanwhile this was advertised as the nineteenth time this feast has happened. Clearly there is a need for education on the subject. Most of you have made great strides in transforming from uncouth plebs to classy fashionistas, so I assume that you would want to know how to properly set a table.
Once you realize that setting a table is based on logic it should, but likely won't, be less intimidating a task than one would think. Allow me, dear reader, to break it down for you as simply as I can. I have asked my dear friend Martha, who is an expert in the topic, for her assistance and she has been invaluable with her advice.
Glassware: Each place should be set with all the glasses that will be used during dinner (except dessert-wine glasses, which may be brought out when the dessert is served). The water glass belongs to the right of the plate, just above the knife. Wineglasses should be set to the right of the water glasses in the order in which they will be used.
Flatware: A proper flatware setting follows one simple rule, no matter how formal or relaxed the event: Set the flatware on the table in the order it will be used, from the outside in. The fork for the first course is the one farthest to the left; to the right of the plate, the knife for the first course is the farthest to the right. Any spoons needed before dessert (say, a soup spoon), should be placed to the right of the knives. Dessert utensils should always be placed horizontally above the plate, or they can be brought in later, with the dessert course. Flatware should align with the bottom rim of the charger.
China: The only pieces of china that should be part of an initial table setting are the bread plate and a charger, if desired. A charger (or service plate) is a purely decorative, oversize plate used to add texture, color, or pattern to the table. Chargers may be made of china, pewter, brass or a variety of other materials. Food is never served directly on the charger, but a first-course soup bowl or salad plate can be set on top of it. The charger should be cleared along with the bowl or plate.
Basic everyday setting: A classic, informal place setting begins with a dinner plate only when soup or another first course is served. Dinner plates are not on the table when guests take their seats if there is no first course. Of the five basic flatware pieces, only the teaspoon is left off the table; it will arrive with coffee or tea, placed at the saucer's edge. A water glass (placed over the knife) and single wineglass are set, suggesting that one wine will accompany dinner. A folded cloth napkin adds a touch of elegance.
Basic formal setting: A formal place setting includes a charger and is set for dining where the salad follows the main course. From the left, forks are for fish, main course, and salad. From the right are the soupspoon, fish knife, and dinner knife. Above the charger are a dessert spoon and dessert fork. Stemware forms a triangle: The water glass sits above the dinner knife, the white-wine glass is to its right, and the red-wine glass is above them. The bread-and-butter plate and butter knife sit above the forks. If you are not fancy enough to serve the salad after the main course, switch your flatware accordingly you basic bitch.
Although a harmonious table maintains a uniform level of formality, creating a mix-and-match table from your collections of china, glassware, and silverware is appropriate on many occasions -- and has the benefit of providing you with a unique table setting for each event. Just keep in mind that something should tie the elements together: If you combine dishes and flatware from different periods and styles, make sure that they share similar proportion or complementary lines. Your best bet as a newbie is to have a basic white set on hand, and then accent it with charger plates and napkins in complimentary colors and patterns. Certain things should always match. This includes, of course, the now infamous salt and pepper shaker. It also includes cup and saucer pairings, flatware, and napkins.
Hopefully this has been an educational experience that you all take to heart and utilize either as a feast goer or a feast thrower. Everyone should understand how a dinner table is meant to work. Feasts will flow so much easier with even a rudimentary understanding of how to set up and use your table space. The set up of your dinnerware is your guests first impression of their food. A well executed table can make even the worst food seem elevated to at least mediocre, so can you imagine what it could do for Sir Gwen's fabulously tasty creations? They deserve better, and so do we.
See you next Tuesday.
Zarine is the proprietor and Madam at Alchimia Lupanar, a magic marshal approved practitioner of medicine, an award winning author, and has 35 years of experience in giving her unsolicited opinion.