20 Jul2007


Table setting is an art. I realize most folks today may not be able to relate to this statement given the economic times, but I firmly believe this to be true. The readership of this blog is sufficiently broad in number, age, income levels, tastes, etc. that some will set2find this post interesting and others not. There was a time when sitting down to dinner at a home was the pinnacle of an evening out. Today, most people are likely to meet friends and eat out at a restaurant instead of doing a dinner party at home. If you ever watched the movie “Age of Innonence,” and noticed the overhead cam shots of the dining table and dining room, you would have seen a very carefully orchestrated selection of tablecloths, dishes, silverware and crystal that should ideally enhance the overall enjoyment of the meal to be served. And despite the cost of pulling together a spectacular table of fine china, silver and lead crystal, I could actually make a good case that it is cheaper than some of the “necessities” seem so willing to spend on these days…


Good tableware can last decades, if not centuries. Silverware, china and crystal of the finest quality will likely rise in value rather than depreciate over time. And if you use these items fairly often (rather than display in a glass case), the average cost will actually be amortized over several dozen or even hundreds of memorable meals. Of course set3I am not delving much into the responsibility of owning such treasures, and the pain in the neck washing, drying and storing… But contrast this with a snazzy designer outfit that is good for 2-3 parties at most, or even a pack of cigarettes everyday for 50 years (upwards of PHP2 million worth) and well, you get the picture where I could go with this argument… I do not consider myself to have even STARTED on my education towards table setting 101; so this post relies on two relatively casual dinners we had at my sister’s apartment in New York. Let’s just say she has a Master’s degree in table setting at the moment, and will probably shoot for a Phd… Things were happening so fast in New York that I didn’t get to take many notes on the details, so I am hoping Sister will leave a comment on items I do not recall…


The first “casual” dinner featured a set of antique burgundy and gold rimmed fish plates with a different hand painted fish at the center of the plates. Can’t recall the make. Silver fork and knife, and silver fish fork and knife. Crisp white linen table cloth and napkins. Peonies in cream, pink and burgundy. A deep burgundy oncidium orchid with massive set6blooms in the living room. silver candelabra with honeycomb candles. Note that the table is intentionally orchestrated, the colors coordinated, even the meal itself carries the colors through to a certain degree… two large fish platters (utterly gorgeous and totally over the top) with whole baked black fish livornese (tomatoes, onions, olives, herbs, etc.) start off the meal and even if you weren’t taking note of the details, there was a calm and beauty to the table… The fish was followed by roast duck, potatoes fried in goose fat and stewed prunes with citrus and brandy (I think). A salad was also served for those who weren’t so into meat. For dessert I think there was a cheesecake with three different kinds of fruit compotes.


The second casual dinner was a few days later. Only the pink peonies were in the table centerpiece, resting on a very light baby blue tablecloth. Inherited china set8with a rose pattern was used, the pink of the rose pattern matching the peonies almost perfectly. Tiffany & Co. bamboo cutlery in sterling silver and crystal finger bowls. I only recall the dinner to have commenced with an asparagus soup, the handles on the soup bowls allowing one to lift it up to your mouth to drink the remaining liquid… My brain has blanked out on the rest of the menu but I am sure it was fabulous… Oh, and I just noticed that I photographed the table before the wine glasses were set in place. They were either tall stemmed Baccarat or some stemless Reidel glasses that are beautiful and practical…



  1. Maria Clara says:

    Anyone from old school totally agrees with you – entertaining at home is the proper way to do it with the china, silver and stem glasses to accentuate the food and meant to be enjoyed by the owner rather than let them sit in China cabinet or cup board. Whenever they have diplomats coming into the White House – they host the dinner at the White House with the finest china, silver and glasses. Same thing in Malacanang – they host the dinner at the dining room there – they do not take the visiting dignitaries to a restaurant. Sister, all I can say you are a woman of impeccable taste – only the best in your household. I love your candelabra and your choice of flowers – everything is pristine down to the dinner napkins!

    Jul 20, 2007 | 8:11 am


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  3. bernadette says:

    Exquisite table settings are works of art for me—there is an art term for it a so-called “installation” if I am allowed such a liberty for making my own definitions. No matter where it be– (maski a simple one but creatively thought of) reminds me a lot to the movie “Babette’s Feast” wherein a French banquet ( so lovingly and meticulously presented) is analogous to God’s abundance as unconditionally given out to all! It gives everyone a feeling that they are really appreciated and honored. It transcends the act of mere eating to survive.

    Jul 20, 2007 | 9:28 am

  4. bambooshootjr says:

    jeezz MM, you call this casual?

    Jul 20, 2007 | 9:37 am

  5. meekerz says:

    Dining at home is definitely better than dinner out. It’s much more intimate, and you see and appreciate the effort more.

    Would love to learn more about table setting 101! :)

    Jul 20, 2007 | 9:41 am

  6. tings says:

    Oh my…I love these!!

    You know, I work (while my hubby volunteers) for a non profit organization (www.pcf.ph or http://www.p-c-f.org naks ang advertise pa :-P) and we feed, educate children in the dumpsites all over the country – so suffice to say that my salary isn’t enough to buy even a sliver of Foie Gras….BUT it doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy and appreciate the finer things in life. I believe that you can still live in grandeur without having to spend millions.

    I bought cheap stem glasses, a few pieces of nice silverware (just enough for 2 people – my husband and myself!) and nice set of ceramic plates…again, just enough for 2 people. We dine on these every day, no matter what the food is, even if it’s just turon or siomai. We see poverty and desperation around us every single day, and we believe that to inspire these people, we need to live decently and through education, show them that there is life beyond the dumpsites which they have the right to claim.

    We felt guilty at first that we earn money and eat 3 times a day but then we realized that living in poverty ourselves will not prove or achieve anything. How can we ask them to aim higher when we ourselves are living in the rubbish tips with them?

    Oops, I digressed, sorry. Anyway, as I was saying, I love that you dine like this at home. I would love to learn the fine art of dining from your sister! I’m an artist so seeing photos like these inspires me. I just hope someday we can save enough money to buy the rest of the dinnerware! :-D

    Thanks for the post MM!

    Jul 20, 2007 | 10:03 am

  7. The Steak Lady says:

    Your sister is my idol! =) I’ve always been fascinated with wonderful table settings and admittedly, it was one of the things i splurged on during my wedding. You and your family have impeccable taste, MM. Can you adopt me? hahaha :p

    Jul 20, 2007 | 10:04 am

  8. Cookie says:

    This brings to mind my late paternal-grandmother who was such a stickler for proper table setting. And mind you, the servilleta always had to be almirol for proper stiffness. My Mom inherited her flatware. Mostly Reed and Barton. And most of her silverware. Of course, I’m hoping to inherit them too. There is this one turkey plate and candy dish I’m eyeing. I think it was from my great, great grandmother pa. You wanna see?

    Jul 20, 2007 | 10:16 am

  9. tings says:

    ay ako din, adopt me! i’m 6 months pregnant though so you’ll have 2 mouths to feed hahaha!

    Jul 20, 2007 | 10:19 am

  10. Cumin says:

    Very exquisite, MM. I agree with Tings on the need to take on life’s challenges without forgetting to care for ourselves in little ways. There’s a lovely song, Bread and Roses, about one of the earliest strikes in the US by women workers in mills who called not just for decent wages and working conditions, but a life of dignity and beauty. Although like Aridelros, I also feel intimidated by extremely formal dinners.

    Jul 20, 2007 | 11:40 am

  11. Marketman says:

    MC,yes, I would agree old school buy into this. But I wish the new school would. Perhaps eventually. bernadette, just watched Babette’s feast for the nth time… I love it. bambooshootjr, casual is slightly but only slightly in jest… formal would have wait service, place cards, change of silver, sherbets between courses as palate cleansers, etc. :) meekerz, mine is still Intro to Table Setting… tings, that is so well said. Nothing should take away from the enjoyment of a fine meal. I often get comments from readers who are mortified that I feature these things when people are starving… my reaction is similar to yours. The Steak Lady…haha, you have to get in line. :) Cookie, I am sure your mom will be happy to leave them to folks who appreciate them… aridelros, it should NOT be intimidating at all. First of all, you really shouldn’t set the table with more than 3 or 4 utensils on each side of the plate, if you need more than that, the waiter or butler can add during the meal. Second, always work from the outer utensil in… hence for the soup, the spoon is at the most right. Then for the salad or other dish, the small fork and knife are next. And so on. And not to worry if you screw up, just place the used utensil back down without fanfare and continue as though nothing has happened. A good host and proper guests will NEVER make you feel uncomfortable at the table. For me, the only issue with really formal dinners is that I can’t eat that much… wolfing down food is out of the question… so a formal dinner for me is usually akin to a diet meal!

    Jul 20, 2007 | 12:23 pm

  12. trishlovesbread says:

    As the host of the so-called “casual” meal, (i.e., no waiters present), am I expected to clear the dishes and flatware AND serve the next course as well? Assuming there’s no spouse or co-host around to help, is it okay to ask one of the guests to clear and/or serve?

    Jul 20, 2007 | 1:45 pm

  13. Marketman says:

    trish, if it’s casual with no servers, YES, by all means guests can and should definitely help if the hostess would like. And if there is no help at all, at most use a salad plate with a set of cutlery then a main plate with cutlery so you only have to clear the salad plate until the main meal is over. I think the “rules” go by the wayside in this day and age re: serving as so few have waiters, staff, etc. So even with a dressed up table, if it is “casual,” I think it’s more than fine to serve family style rather than plate up each dish… But that’s my personal opinion… :)

    Jul 20, 2007 | 2:13 pm

  14. Mandy says:

    your sister has very beautiful china & silverware. gorgeous talaga. i read an article in a magazine about this family who used their good china every sunday for dinner. a guest commented why they used the good china for the family–in fact, one of the kids had already chipped one of the plates. the homeowner replied that she considers her family more important therefore should be the ones to use the good china. not just to impress guests.

    Jul 20, 2007 | 2:40 pm

  15. betty mahmoudy says:

    MM, Age of Innocence is one of my favorite movies- and books! I am a huge Edith Wharton fan. I personally don’t believe in storing beautiful china, crystal and silver in a platera. My children and I use our good stuff everyday, including Chrstofle cutlery and proper cloth napkins. When my mom visited she said she would get me “everyday plates” as a present and I gracefully refused. Of course breakage is inevitable and I almost had a fit once when the maid threw away a Chrstofle fork by mistake!

    Jul 20, 2007 | 2:47 pm

  16. sister says:

    Tabletop need not be expensive, there are fabulously stylish plates, glasses, flatware available at Pottery Barn, Gallerie Lafayette, etc. that can go into the dishwasher. Vintage china, silver, crystal can be had for a song at flea markets and auction houses. I use all my china and silver and crystal, my family are my most important clientele for dinner.
    Before my children went off to college I orchestrated a series of elaborate meals to acquaint their friends with proper table etiquette so a fish fork would not be a stranger, even if they were off to Harvard. Now these kids are dining at the finest restaurants acros the globe with great confidence, probably due to their MBA’s, not my dinners, but I like to think it all helped make them comfortable in any social setting.

    Jul 20, 2007 | 9:51 pm

  17. Ted says:

    I’ve attended a couple of formal dinners at a lavish hotel here in the Bay area. I for one don’t really know the proper ettiquete on how to use this silverwares, i was just told to use from out to in. I do have one question though, how do you signal the server not to take away your food when you leave your table? I’ve done this before and when i came back, my food is gone and replaced by desert. Is there a way to do that with the silverwares?

    Jul 21, 2007 | 3:22 am

  18. sha says:

    whoa I JUST LOVE THE SETTINGS… one good book i have is Professional Table Service which guides you setting up different kind of service.
    I also collect books on table settings but most times I just get ideas from magazines.

    hello from capri MM we were in Amalfi and Positano.. oh am in heaven

    Jul 21, 2007 | 7:00 am

  19. sister says:

    Suggest you finish the course at hand before you go to the bathroom… otherwise leave your fork upside down with the tines on the plate and the handle resting on the tablecloth, knife balanced on the right side of the plate unless heaven forbid you have been provided with a knife rest. To signal waiter you are through place your fork and knife close together either at six o’clock or slightly sideways.

    Jul 21, 2007 | 8:37 am

  20. Chinachix says:

    beautiful and inspiring setup Sister…question though: at what age were your kids when you started having more “formal” dinners? i have a toddler and a preschooler, and while my older daughter appreciates her father’s wonderful dinners, they’re often served in good ol Corelle dinnerware…:)

    Jul 21, 2007 | 11:31 am

  21. Marketman says:

    Chinachix, Sister’s kids were eating off of decent China at an early age. Certainly silver cutlery shortly after they figured out how to use utensils. As for The Kid, we eat with a fairly nice set up at least 1x a week and she can manage eating with her hands kamayan style or a fork and knife European style (except with rice). That means the fork is upside down when brought to the mouth. With rice, the fork is usually right side up…

    Jul 21, 2007 | 11:41 am

  22. marosee says:

    my family has the same philosophy.. what’s the point of having nice china and silverware if you don’t use it? thanks for sharing.. sister is my idol.. now i just have to find me those tiffany & co. bamboo cutlery.. haha..

    Jul 21, 2007 | 1:04 pm

  23. tulip says:

    Now since European style was brought up…I just wonder which is more proper..I have observed that Europeans keep the fork at the left and the knife for the right hand, and eats throughout a mealtime this way. While Americans do use fork and knife, they usually lay down the knife (when not in use)and moves the fork to the right. I maybe wrong, but that is so far my observations. So both acceptable or not? And why do Pinoys eat pizza with a knife, is that a “formal” way of eating pizza? hehehe

    Jul 21, 2007 | 3:29 pm

  24. kulasa says:

    Ha ha ha. Hi Tulip, I’ve observed the same difference with how Europeans and Americans use the fork and knife. Never really bothered to find out why or which one is correct.

    I was always afraid to invite friends to the house because they might find the table a bit intimidating. I thought my dad was uber arte since he insisted we use the good china and silver. He inherited a lot of them from his parents and always said when they are passed on to us, they will bring with them memories – and he was right.

    Jul 22, 2007 | 6:39 am

  25. Marketman says:

    tulip and kulasa, I am not sure if there is a more proper…though I suppose the continental version is older. My personal opinion is that the continental style with upside down fork looks more elegant and I find, is actually more natural a “fit” when you are bringing food to your mouth. However, I cannot imagine that most continental eaters would fare well with pinoy rice. Eating risotto or potatoes with an upside down fork is possible, but spaghetti and fried rice might be a bit tougher to do. The continental version which leaves the fork on the left hand rather than shifting also seems more elegant to me…but that it just me. Shifting to the right seems to suggest that you have not mastered the use of your left hand…heehee. :)

    Jul 22, 2007 | 7:22 am


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