Thursday, 3 December 2015

Setting the Perfect Christmas Dinner Table

Mr Town Talk sets out the perfect Christmas dinner party table...

"Gathering friends and family round the dinner table at Christmas, for me, is the highlight of the year. So getting my festive table ready for my guests' arrival is a task that I relish with complete pride. I'll put on some festive carols in the background and I'm in my element!

I like to imagine the Christmas table at England's finest country houses - like Chatsworth or Castle Howard, conjuring up images of shining cutlery, sparkling crystal, gleaming crockery, beautiful floral centrepieces, glittering candlesticks, fine starched linen.... magical!

While public evenings of this kind might seem impossible to recreate at home, follow my steps to preparing a well-set table and it will be an occasion your guests will remember. You don't need an army of staff to 'put on the Ritz'; I always have the answer to applying the finishing touch:


I’m afraid I can’t advise on food preparation, but experience tells me it’s never too soon to start work on your table. Indeed, the night before is a very good time.


Gone are the days of hours spent bent over the silver cleaning with muscle power, most can be cleaned in a jiffy with the right products, specially designed to care and protect treasured possessions.

So before you spread out your best tablecloth, spread your table with old newspaper and set to work cleaning any tarnished silverware that you plan to use. Firstly clean wax off silver candlesticks using a blunt cocktail stick (goodness me, never use a knife it will scratch the silver). Intricate candlesticks are quick and simple to clean with my Excellent Anti-Tarnish Silver Foam; simple to apply, it quickly gets to work in all the nooks and crannies of the silver design. Do the same to any silver condiment pots or salt and pepper cellars.

Silver cutlery not stored in a protective cutlery roll may have tarnished in the elements, so dip the tines of your forks in Outstanding Cutlery Rinse and buff up to a super sparkle. The overall effect in a soft candlelight will be dazzling.


Fine white damask is my favourite as it comes in beautiful classic patterns formed by the 100% cotton weave, it creates a beautiful canvas on which to build a wonderful picture and most these days are machine washable, which is ideal. Damask also helps to lower the noise level in the room, so no one has to raise their voice to be heard. Such cloths can be acquired from any good retailer but I like the ones at John Lewis. Shop white damask tablecloth


Depending on where you live in the world can affect the way you lay out your place settings, based on different traditions.

The British Place Setting

A standard place setting is known as a Seven-Piece set, which comprises one each of the following: Table Knife, Table Fork, Dessert Knife, Dessert Fork, Teaspoon, Soup Spoon and Dessert Spoon.

The simple rule for setting out cutlery is to place them from the outside in. You can of course add extra cutlery to suit your menu however the traditional English setting is as follows:
  1. The Soup Spoon will be the first to be used, so it goes furthest to the right from the centre of the place setting. Even if you’re not serving soup, the rules are the same: start from the outside and work in. 
  2. A teaspoon is placed to the outer left. 
  3. Next come the Dessert Knife and Dessert Fork, but if you are having a fish course you might move these to the top beneath the Dessert Spoon (fork pointing right and knife blade pointing left), leaving room for the Fish Knife and Fork by the plate. 
  4. The main course Table Knife and Table Fork are the largest and are placed nearest to the plate on either side. 
  5. The Dessert Spoon is set above the plate pointing to the left. 
Us Brits include a bread and butter plate in the place setting too (not shown here), with a small butter spreader placed on the plate, which goes to the left of the setting.

Wine glasses should be placed in order of their use – white first, followed by red if you’re serving a meat main course. These sit just above and to the right of the knives.

Don’t forget to include a water glass for each guest. Everyone – especially drivers – will need some refreshment! Giving each glass a final buff with one of my Tea Towels will, of course, add a final touch of sparkle.

One should also set out all the serving pieces likely to be needed during the meal – serving spoons and forks, ladles, pastry servers and the like – remembering that each dish should have its own utensil. In my experience, having just the right serving piece or utensil for each dish will give your table the perfect finish!

American Place Setting
The American Place Setting

Our American cousins traditional use a five piece set of cutlery including a Table Knife, Table Fork, Dessert Spoon, Salad Fork and Teaspoon. See the illustration to the left.

European Place Setting
The European Place Setting

Connoisseurs of fine dining across Europe use a six-piece setting consisting of Table Knife, Table Fork, Table Spoon, Dessert Spoon, Dessert Fork and Teaspoon


Candles should always be lit before your guests arrive, and not extinguished until they have left. One doesn’t want to spoil the end of an evening by filling the room with freshly extinguished candle smoke, even if the candles are scented!

If you’re expecting more than half-a-dozen guests – and especially if you’ve invited a group who don’t all know each other – a seating plan and place cards will give you the chance to seat people exactly as you please. It’s never a mistake to split up couples – they will see each other again very soon! Remember, too, that the most animated conversations often take place across dinner tables, not between people sitting next to each other. This could help you decide on your seating plan.


If your dinner party is a quite formal and you don't feel it appropriate to allow your party to turn into a bun fight, convention decrees that plates of food should always be placed in front of your guests from the right and taken away, when they’re empty, from the left.

Wine and water should always be served from the right, and food in dishes offered from the right, for guests to help themselves.

It is perfectly correct, once the main course is finished, to remove the salt and pepper from the table, just as it is equally acceptable for cheese and biscuits to be left on the table while coffee is served.

Following these rules will not only bring grace and style to your party, but also impress the most discerning of your guests!


When I was young, it was the done thing for everyone’s guests to follow a set of etiquette rules. Nowadays, of course, society is more relaxed. But that doesn’t mean the old rules have had their day. Far from it! Indeed, I’ve many times seen a little decorum add a frisson of excitement to the most informal of occasions.

For example, when you first arrive as a guest, make a point of finding your host and saying hello before you accept the offer of a drink. He/she will certainly appreciate a gesture like that.

If hors d’oeuvres are offered, just take one. It’s frightfully undignified to scoop up three or four at a time as beautiful as they appear! They may, too, spoil your appetite!

If you take a break from eating but have not finished the course, always place your knife and fork across each other as a signal that you are, as it were, resting. When you have finished, place your knife and fork in the middle of your plate, parallel to each other. Your host will recognise this signal!

Even though the dinner party is being held in a private house, where the rules for public places do not apply, it’s really not the done thing – and most unseemly – to smoke at the table, or to apply lipstick between courses. Politely excuse yourself and adjourn to appropriate areas!

Finally, choose your moment of departure carefully. To leave too soon might suggest you have not enjoyed yourself. To linger too long might cause you to outstay your welcome. Just as the setting for a dinner party establishes its style and progress, its completion is a matter of elegant timing!


When guests have departed and the celebrations are at a close be sure to clean your silver cutlery carefully and store it away in silver rolls; it'll make your dinner party preparations so much easier next time. See here for my top tips on cleaning silver cutlery.

Wishing you a very successful Christmas party and a happy and sparkly New Year!" Mr Town Talk, The Polished Gentleman

The last date for online orders from Town Talk Polish for Christmas delivery is 20th December, after this time orders will be dispatched on January 4th.

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Mr Town Talk’s Gleaming Polished World was established in Lancashire, Great Britain in 1895 to supply the finest Polishes, Cleaners and Accessories for Silver, Gold and Precious Metal Jewellery. More recently, Mr Town Talk’s range of unparalleled products has been expanded to include Household Cleaners and Laundry Requisites.

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