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by Nina Makofsky
For some people, setting a proper table remains one of those dark and mysterious areas in home decor, bogged down by arcane rules. However, contemporary place settings need not be overly fussy. Every piece need not match exactly, as long as every person gets a complete place setting. You can keep the look elegant by setting tableware according to traditional arrangements.
Utensil placement: The most important tips for table setting concern the placement of utensils. The overall rule is that you set utensils in the order people will use them, working from the outer edge of each side of the plate inward. If you are serving a soup course first, the soup spoon goes on the outer right edge. Forks for your salad and entree courses sit to the left of the plate, while the knives go to the right, with the sharp edge facing the plate. A folded cloth napkin sits at the far left edge of the place setting. Make sure that you leave equal space between plates, utensils and glassware. You also should ensure that each person will have enough room to use all the table settings without bumping his neighbor's elbow.
Glassware choices and placement: If you are serving multiple beverages, take note that certain beverages require special glassware. In general, water goes in a larger glass that has a short stem. Alcoholic beverages go in different types of glasses, such as flutes for champagne, mugs for beer and a wine glass with a larger bowl for red or white wine. If you are serving pinot noir or burgundy, use a taller glass. Set glassware above the right-hand edge of the plate, over the knives, on a slight downward diagonal line. You can bring coffee in a separate service with dessert or set cups and saucers to the right, with a coffee spoon along the saucer's right edge.
Additional tableware settings: Dessert plates typically come with the dessert course, but you can set dessert utensils in advance. Place the dessert fork and spoon horizontally over the service plate, with the spoon at the top with its bowl facing the left side and the fork below with its tines facing the right side. If you set a plate for bread, place it above the left-hand edge of the plate, above the forks. Set the butter knife horizontally along the top edge of the bread plate, with the sharp edge facing downward. If you add a floral centerpiece, make sure it has a low enough profile so your guests won't need to crane their necks to see one another and converse.