Maybe you'll be at a summer barbecue... maybe at a potluck... or maybe just at a friend's house for an informal dinner. Someone will hand you a stack of plates and say, "Set the table, please, won't you?"
AND YOU WILL PANIC, FLING PLATES IN ALL DIRECTIONS AND RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.
Because, of course, you won't know what you're doing. While hurling plates will certainly create an unforgettable diversion, your hostess may be a wee bit annoyed if you treat her grandmother's fine china like clay pigeons. So you might as well learn ahead of time how to set the table properly.
You will need (at minimum):
- A table big enough to seat everyone in attendance (or satellite tables, if necessary).
- A chair for each person.
- A plate for each person.
- Flatware (aka silverware) for each person.
- A drinking glass for each person.
- A napkin for each person.
Put the plates down first, so that every place at the table has a plate. Ideally you want to space the plates out enough so that people don't constantly elbow each other during the meal, but sometimes space is tight, especially in large gatherings or big families. Just do your best. Then build the rest of the place setting around the plate. If you're not sure what flatware or beverage glasses you'll need for the meal, ask your hostess.
There are a couple of standard variations on this theme -- for instance, you can place the folded napkin across the plate instead of beneath the fork -- but for most everyday situations this should have you covered.
See? Not so tough. If you're scared you'll forget, you can print out the masterfully sketched place setting above and keep it in your wallet as a "cheat sheet" until you have it down. It's a lot less embarrassing than having to come up with an apology for breaking all the Spode.