Local master of events Alyssa Kayo demystifies the formal place setting to help you unleash your inner party planner.
Section by Somer Tejwani
From rustic to elegant, modern and everything in between, the way a table is set at a party contributes just as much to the mood as does the good company and food. Establish the ambience for the evening with a few simple guidelines courtesy of Alyssa Kayo, who has been with Laguna Beach’s seven-degrees for more than a decade as a production manager on wedding, corporate and private events. Alyssa has created celebrations from start to finish at the 25,000-square-foot space and says the table can be a “wow” moment.
“The table sets the tone for the whole event,” she adds. “It’s impactful, and people remember it.”
First, decide on a theme, which will help determine the kind of setting you want to create. “The whole rustic and vintage style is really popular right now,” Alyssa says. “With that type of theme, you can really think outside the box and decorate a table with items like antique books. I’ve even seen a table decorated with vintage baseball mitts.”
Alyssa says sheet moss, grape vines and driftwood are also versatile options to decorate with and can be purchased online or from a florist. “You can attach different flowers, succulents or decor directly on the moss or wood and place it on the table, no vase needed,” she says.
With the decor taken care of, you’ll want to decide if your dinner party will have assigned seating. For larger events, Alyssa recommends guiding guests to a designated table.
“Remember, people like direction,” she says. “It’s uncomfortable for them to just sit down.”
She adds that your settings, assigned or not, also need to be spaced evenly and with enough room—hosts often try to squeeze in too many people at a table. “It affects the guest experience; it’s better to have less and give them more space to be comfortable and relaxed,” she explains.
Once the spacing is established, a formal table setting can be arranged with glassware, a bread plate, a charger and silverware. The charger is a purely decorative, oversized plate that can add a pop of color or pattern to the table. Food won’t be served on the charger—it will be removed before the entree.
“If you do decide to use a charger, keep in mind that it will take up extra space as the utensils will have to be moved out to accommodate it,” says Alyssa, who likes to place a napkin on top of the charger with a printed menu in its pocket fold.
The water and wine glasses should be on the table when guests sit down; however, if you’re serving a dessert wine, that glass can be brought out later. Wine glass companies like Riedel make specific style glasses for different varietals, but if you don’t have any on hand, leave the bigger glass for the red and the smaller for the white.
No matter how formal or informal the event, the one silverware rule to follow is to place it in the order it will be used from the outside in. The first-course fork is farthest to the left of the plate, while the knife for the first course is to the right.
Any spoons such as for soup should be placed to the right of the knives; however, Alyssa likes dessert spoons to be brought out with dessert, but they also can be placed horizontally above the plate. She advises that more than two forks on the table is usually unnecessary, and, if you have hired servers for the dinner, they can always bring out more forks as needed.
Finally, Alyssa says it’s important to have a host, whether it’s you, a family member or a hired planner. This individual will run the party, welcome guests, show them where to put their coats, and guide them to your beautifully set table.