Tag Archives: dinner placement

How Many Plates do I Really Need?

plates for entertaining

4 is not a number no matter how many chairs are in your dining room!

My kitchen table seats only 3 and my dining room table has only 6 chairs.  So, how many plates do I really need?  I need a lot more than 6!  I can honestly say that I get asked that question by almost every client I have.  The answer is that everyone needs at least 10 even if you only seat 6 at your table and here’s why:

First, you will sometimes choose to use some regular plates (not serving pieces) just for serving the food that you’ve made.  Perhaps the meal is more casual and you don’t feel the need to pull out your platters and, whatever you’ve created will fit just fine on a dinner plate.  That’s why if your table is like mine and you’re serving 6 you will need more plates.

Second, you might be having a casual dinner and somehow a plate or two gets cleared into the kitchen but your guests aren’t quite finished with the meal – you need more plates!

Third, for some holidays you might add a folding table or two with folding chairs to seat 12 and you need more plates.

Or, maybe you’re serving a buffet and a guest wants a clean plate – all of a sudden you need more plates.

Then there’s always the dreaded and unexpected ‘plus one’ that wasn’t on the original guest list but someone brings to the party. You can scramble for another chair that you pull up to your table but, if you don’t have extra plates, how are they going to eat their dinner?

And, what if you’re being very careful with cleanup but a plate slips through your fingers and goes crashing to the floor?  Or, the garbage disposal decides to eat a spoon? Or any number of other mishaps and disasters that could descend on your evening?

You can see where this is headed.  The number of chairs at your table is only the start of how many plates, bowls, glasses, spoons, forks, etc. that you need to have on hand.  My rule of thumb is an additional 4 of everything.  This holds true no matter what shape or size your plates, bowls or flatware are.  Extras are always the answer.

I used to throw an annual New Year’s Eve party for all of my friends.  The last several years the number of guests grew to 100.  After I pushed back all of the furniture in my living room I squeezed in 10 tables for dinner.  But, you can imagine how many dishes etc. I had for those parties – service for 115!!!  I just never knew if someone was bringing an ‘extra’ and I always needed to be prepared.

Count your plates and be ready for anything!

Party Etiquette: Which bread plate is mine?

Don't be confused by etiquette

This tip will save you from the embarrassment of grabbing the wrong bread plate (or wine glass) at a formal party.

A friend of mine told me this story about one of the first formal parties he attended. It was one of those kinds of affairs where someone pulled out all the stops. And despite all the preparation and reading, he had no idea what to do.

“Suddenly, I had performance anxiety,” he laughs.

“There was every imaginable utensil, plate, glass and other things I’ve never seen set on the table,” he said. “I was confused, but then I discovered that my neighbor was confused – in fact, I think the whole table was completely at a loss.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“We shared. We made it work,” he laughed. “Even the host thought it was amusing.”

The funny part is, my friend is the maître d’ of a five-star restaurant in Laguna Beach, CA where table rules are the standard for every meal. Beyond plates and utensils, there are practical rules like no elbows on the table, no reaching in front of the person next to you, always say “please” and “thank you,” and so on.

My historian friend tells me that table manners evolved over time since the early Renaissance as a part of the cultural revolution. But how about this as a surprise – table rules probably began in Italy (yay!) and not France. Cultural anthropologists (there’s a title for you) attribute the move toward universal social manners with a book written in 1558 by the poet Giovanni della Casa titled “Galateo.” In it, he describes all kinds of manners, including washing hands before sitting down, the use of hands while eating, and the way of putting food into your mouth.

Today, rules cover a myriad of things, right up to how and when one sits at a formal dinner table if royalty is present. But for your table, it’s the bread plate.

The first tip, from my friend the career Maître d’, is that at a party where nobody is sure whose bread plate is whose (much less, which plate is the bread plate), don’t feel bad. Nobody else is sure either. The person on the other side is just as confused and bewildered as you are.

The second tip, from me – keep your cool and ask questions. Dinner is to be an enjoyable, friendly experience. Nothing good happens if you feel like you’re taking a test.

The third tip is a little trick I picked up a long time ago. Touch your thumb and forefinger together to form a small “d” with your right hand and a little “b” with your left. Now, think of the little “d” on your right hand. It stands for “drink.” Those glasses on your right are yours. The little “b” on left-hand stands for “bread.” That’s YOUR bread plate!

Now you’ll never be confused again.