Set all the dinner tables the same?
April 1, 2007 8:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be doing some large group entertaining in the near future and I'm curious how to go about making sure all the tables look exactly the same for that "wow" impact when people walk into the room. Are there any tips and techniques for helping keep all the tables look the same even when using several people to set them all?
posted by riverjack to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd say get everyone together before hand and show them exactly how you want each table set. Also, use the same centerpieces for all of the tables.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:01 PM on April 1, 2007

For my wedding (which we did ourselves), we had one person set a demonstration place setting at each set of tables (since our helpers were setting more than one table). The helpers just followed suit.

Work out how you want the tables to look ahead of time. If you have the opportunity, set up a table for practice. Napkins, water goblets, candles and the like very quickly make a table look pretty.
posted by acoutu at 9:02 PM on April 1, 2007

Sorry . . . in addition - if you don't want everything exactly the same - at least go with the same theme for the centerpieces (for instance - if it's an anniversary, maybe the centerpieces for all the tables are a variety of clocks, watches and hourglasses). You wouldn't have the exact same centerpiece but the same theme is at least there which presents a cohesive element.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:03 PM on April 1, 2007

Best answer: Something that I've seen done for state dinners and very formal occasions (i.e where it's okay to be pretty anal) is to get a straight piece of wood and mark on it the distance each item (plates, cutlery, glasses, chair, etc.) should be from the edge of the table, and the distance each item should be from the other items.

Make copies for the various people involved (possibly with an illustrative diagram!) and you have an instant setting replicator.
posted by Paragon at 9:12 PM on April 1, 2007

get a straight piece of wood and mark on it the distance each item (plates, cutlery, glasses, chair, etc.) should be ... Make copies for the various people involved (possibly with an illustrative diagram!)

This is exactly what we did back in the day when I worked at a fancy, high-falutin' private supper club.
posted by frogan at 9:19 PM on April 1, 2007

I just watched the PBS series "A Royal Year" or something to that effect, and when preparing the Queen's banquets in England, they use the stick method to get uniform length. If its a centerpiece, you can always get a large piece of posterboard and cut out the setting pattern...if that makes any sort of sense.
posted by sicem07 at 9:09 PM on April 1, 2007

Last month I helped to set a formal gala. We had thirty tables for 8 each. We had the wow factor and then some but we weren't so anal about making sure that each fork was 3mm from each knife as we were making sure that everything in each place setting was there, each program was set in the same place and each gift was in the same spot on the program, each chair was pushed in the right depth, etc. Slight variances are fine, but the overall look should be the same. When all the settings were done there was one person who surveyed all to make sure everything was in place.

How many people are you entertaining? Will you be renting tables and chairs? If so, I suggest renting as much as possible to better enable uniformity. Tha means linens, place settings, glasses, etc. Also, don't skimp on the chairs. I know it's tempting, but get something a notch or two above the bare folding wooden chairs.
posted by FlamingBore at 4:25 AM on April 2, 2007

Best answer: I used to do this professionally, including for Prince Charles on occasion. With a long rectangular table, the stick measurer will suffice, but for round tables you need to get a little more sophisticated.
1. The tables must be evenly spaced, usually in hexagons. The table cloths must be the right size for the tables, and the central creases must pass through the middle of the table, and all be in the same orientation. Do this first.
2. While the florists work on the centrepieces, get your table plan together. Exact symmetry requires the same number of people per table, ideally eight or ten, depending on the diameter of the table. If you have to have one table with an odd number of people, make sure it's out of the way somewhere.
3. On a central table, where all the waiters can see it, lay the first two place settings opposite each other along the crease. Work around the table lining everything up with the stick. On a round table millimetric precision is less necessary.
4. Instruct the waiters to copy the table you have done, using the same orientations based on the central crease.
5. Go round table by table polishing and adjusting, because the waiters will never be as anal about it as you might like.
6. Just before the guests arrive try to light all the candles almost simultaneously.
posted by roofus at 7:05 AM on April 2, 2007

To make tables look exactly the same, I would suggest that you focus on the centerpiece; it might well be the only point of color on the table (assuming white linens and china), and therefore will catch guests' eyes more quickly than the silverware layout. Flowers can be somewhat chaotic; instead, how about a grouping of three tall pillar candles, or identical items that signify the occasion, like Sassyfras' clocks.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:07 AM on April 2, 2007

Take a picture of the place setting; make copies. Have 1 at each table. Be sure to collect all copies.
posted by theora55 at 8:23 AM on April 2, 2007

Yeah I agree with Theora55.
posted by radioamy at 10:01 AM on April 2, 2007

Response by poster: Great answers, everyone - very helpful! I'll be using round tables, so I really appreciate your comments, roofus. Would it be helpful to combine the stick method even on a round table (having the setting all line up on one line but not be flush on a curve with the edge of the table)?

I agree that the key will be in making sure distances are all the same and all centered around each other. Thankfully the facility will have all the same chairs, tables, linens, etc., so I don't have to worry about that.

The hardest part will be making sure I can get everything done with a team of eight or nine volunteers, so suggestions with a stick, and other tangible measurements are really helpful. Any others on those lines?
posted by riverjack at 8:01 PM on April 3, 2007

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