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Secrets of Restaurant Ambiance: How to Set the Table

March 1, 2013 | By | 5 Replies More

set the table

Understated dinnerware lets food take center stage

Enjoying great meals is only partially about the food.  Maybe you go out to eat in search of elegance and romance, or just to feel a little special.  You want an experience that transcends the food.  Sometimes, the experience is actually in spite of the food, and you can end up feeling resentful for having put on decent clothes only to be annoyed by crowds and the now empty state of your wallet.

It’s not difficult to create restaurant-inspired ambiance right at your own dinner table.  Don’t wait to have company over to create a beautiful table that will make you feel like you’re having dinner at the most sought-after, swankiest of bistros. Even on busy weekdays, you can return home and savor a bit of the good life once you know how to set the table.

5 Everyday Tips for Setting a Beautiful Table

Clean your table. Eating at restaurants feels like an escape because there’s no visual reminder of chores left undone at home.  There’s nothing like a big stack of mail and bills or worse, dirty dishes (no, I’m not making this up), on the table to make you feel like a big loser.  These messy piles nag you, making you feel unorganized and compelling you to hurry up and eat so you can get to your chores.  First things first, get rid of all stacks of paper, car keys, sunglasses, purses, and anything else that doesn’t belong on the table.  Finally, before you set the table, dust it so it’s nice and clean.

Have a centerpiece.  This doesn’t have to be anything fancy, unless you feel the urge.  An everyday centerpiece can be as simple as arranging seasonal fruits in a vintage bowl.  For example, a milk glass footed bowl filled with artfully arranged apples and pears is beautiful and functional.  Or, go minimalist with a sleek white vessel piled with perfect, bright yellow lemons.

set the table

A bowl of fruit is a simple, beautiful centerpiece

In summer, I stroll in my garden with a pair of scissors and snip handfuls of perfect blooms.  I put them in a Mason jar for a rustic, colorful display.  Shorter centerpieces make it easy to see your main squeeze across the table.  If you prefer a taller centerpiece, choose vases that are clear glass and flowers and greenery that are airy and easy to see through.

Use simple dinnerware.  Do you ever wonder why so many “food porn” photos involve white dinnerware?  Presenting food on a busy, patterned plate is like painting over a finished piece of art.  Food always looks better if it’s not competing with a pattern.

Unless you’re using 100% post-consumer paper napkins or paper towels, cloth napkins are the eco-friendly choice.

In my home, we use plain white, restaurant-quality dinnerware.  It’s inexpensive and versatile, and owning it eliminates the need for fancy china.  For holidays and dinner parties, we “dress up” our white dinnerware and table with more elaborate decor, more formal table linens, and grown-up crystal glassware.  I also like rustic-looking stoneware, as long as it doesn’t have a pattern and it’s in a neutral color.  Avoid glossy, dark-colored plates since every fingerprint and oil smudge will show.

set the table

Simple linen napkins

Use cloth napkins.  I know, it sounds so…hard.  It’s not, though.  Not only will you save paper towels and trees, you’ll automatically begin to feel a little more decadent at home while you savor even simple weeknight dinners.  For everyday use, try heavy cotton napkins in solid colors or artsy patterns.  About once a week, I launder our napkins in cold water and remove them promptly from the dryer to fold.  Good quality cotton napkins usually don’t require any ironing, and I never do it.  The only napkins I iron are the nicer linens that we use for special occasions.

It’s best to use unscented candles for the table, since cloying fragrances will interfere with your senses while eating.

Add candles.  Add a little drama and romance to your meal with votives and tealights scattered around your centerpiece.  They’re at the perfect height to cast a warm glow on your food.  If you have a simple centerpiece and simple dinnerware, colorful votive candle holders can be a way to add an interesting layer to your tablescape.  You can also try using candles of varying heights to create more interest.  Try clean-burning soy candles or beeswax.


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Category: Enviable Ideas, General, Home and Garden

Comments (5)

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  1. cindi says:

    Brandi, this si so true. I just purchased new dinnerware an di love my white settings! I use flowers for the table, but love the idea of apples too.

    • Brande says:

      Rock your new dinnerware, Cindi…and, “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home….”! 🙂

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