Has a set table become a lost art in your home? How far do you take setting the table on a daily basis? If you eat with children or alone, do you not bother?

During January, the number one viewed article on this site was viewed over 900 times. More than anything else, my visitors want to know How to Set the Table for Tea. And this got me thinking. Do we know how to set the table in general? Do we even take the trouble anymore?

There’s a book I sometimes pick up at the library called, The Art of the Table: A Complete Guide to Table Setting, Table Manners, and Tableware. It’s very detailed and includes the history of every item used in Western Civilization to set a table. As I read it, it amazes me how far we’ve come, at least in my circle of middle-class Americans from the days of finger bowls and seafood forks, much less multiple course meals. Sometimes I find myself encouraging others to just try and stop using paper plates.

I have set the table with my basics (I’ll list them out in a minute) since my children were very young. Yes, it was discouraging when they sat at the table for two minutes, and then got up taking the tablecloth with them. And yes, because we use real silver and china, my boys (who were not born in a barn, but do have that testosterone-split brain) can make so much noise clinking and dropping their silverware. No, even my husband does not always put his napkin on his lap or keep his elbows off the table. So why DO I bother?

I bother because preparing a table for the five and us and sometimes others to gather around is one of the daily art forms I can easily practice. And I’ve noticed that each step I add (lighting the candles, choosing a tablecloth, etc.) does increase the pleasure and enjoyment of the guests, even if on many nights its only me.

I did not understand this at twenty-four when I married and “registered” for wedding gifts. Nor did my friends at the time who didn’t purchase from my Macy’s list for the most part. I learned about the art of the table from my mother over the last fifteen years. I watched her appreciate what she inherited from her aunts and slowly gather the glasses, linens, plates, etc., that she loved. And as a woman now in charge of her own home, I greatly appreciated her efforts to dress the table when we went for a visit. Thankfully, I came to appreciate it enough to begin accepting items from my husband’s and my grandmothers’ homes when they passed on.

But it’s a process. I put beautiful teacups worth a pretty penny from my husband’s grandmother in the dishwasher many times before I knew better and of course they cracked. I’m still working on laying out cloth napkins instead of paper (they’re never ironed, you see, because I hate to iron.). And I let my children eat off and load the dishwasher with our wedding pattern that are now discontinued and cost $55 a piece (in other words, should I not do this?). However, most nights at The Wellspring when we gather for dinner I:

  • light unscented candles. It is winter, so they’re spread throughout our dining/living room combo.
  • use a tablecloth or cloth place-mats.
  • turn on some background classical or Celtic music.
  • help my six-year old set the table with her great-grandmother’s stainless steel silverware.
  • serve the food restaurant-style instead of family style. In other words, even if we’re only having tacos, they’re assembled in the kitchen, no one is passing around the Cost-co size vat of sour cream to each other.

So how about you? How often do you set the table in your home? Do you think it’s even necessary? What are your basics for a set table? Please feel free to share your comments below.