When you sit down and have your meal quietly, you not only satisfy your hunger, but you also share quality time with those you love. You may talk about the day, exchange opinions and thoughts, or talk about your children’s experiences. This way you look after your family and you show them your love and care.

Healthy habits spring from the table, the place where your love gets stronger and stronger. Therefore, setting the table is quite easy for an Italian woman if she follows a few suggestions. 

What is the biggest meal of the day in Italy?

There is a famous Italian motto: “Have a king’s breakfast, a prince’s lunch, and a poor man’s dinner.” It means that breakfast should be abundant and rich; lunch should consist of carbs, a few proteins, and plenty of vegetables; and dinner should be light with some meat or fish, plenty of vegetables (one or two servings), and very little bread. 

Unfortunately, Italian habits have changed nowadays. Our lunch too often consists of a sandwich in front of the computer or at a bar. That means we are starving at dinner time, so we eat much more than we should and tend to gain weight. 

What does setting the table mean?

It is something very easy to do, but we are always in a hurry; we are too busy with countless commitments, so we sometimes eat standing up. 

Yet, just a little attention to the meals will result in a healthier lifestyle. At least three meals a day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—deserve some special attention because they create not only a healthy and balanced menu but also a harmonious table. 

Although your meal may be simple, a neat and properly set table makes your food more appealing. You and your family will enjoy your meals more if your food is served in a pleasing environment. 

I do not mean an elaborate or overly decorated table but a simple tidy, symmetrical one, which is devoid of anything which causes confusion. 

A neat tablecloth, nice plates, properly placed cutlery help to create a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere so that you will forget about the day’s stress and anxiety. You will enjoy what you eat more and you will get plenty of positive energy to recharge your batteries.  

Of course, a neat, well-set table definitely means more work, but it is worth the effort. Little by little it will become second nature and will be easy to do. The trick is changing your habits. This means organizing a simple and practical way to set your table, something you can do every day, something natural you won’t be able to live without ever after. If you have kids, get them involved. First, they learn how to properly set the table, and second, you involve them in the process.

How can you set the table properly?

There are basic rules which create harmony and order: 

  1. The basics: a tablecloth, placemats, and the table itself. 
  2. The central piece is usually a sort of decorative plate or bowl, for example, a salad plate or bowl where you dress the salad;
  3. The placement of plates, cutlery, and glasses. 

The tablecloth is an important element. I usually opt for a light-colored one (white or cream). In Italy, red and white checkered tablecloths are very fashionable as they make you feel at home. Placing the plates directly on the table is faster and easier, but it is also much colder, which implies that you do not want to spend much time enjoying what you are eating. 

Light colors make me feel more relaxed, and they are also much easier to keep clean and neat. They can be washed in the washing machine with a little bleach. Removing the stains from colored tablecloths are quite difficult because their colors fade away. 

Use colorfully-decorated, modern tablecloths for breakfasts or lunches when in the country. In my opinion, they do not fit everyday meals because they convey a feeling of chaos, and I like to relax when I am sitting at the table. I opt for cotton, hemp, damask linen, and linen tablecloths to set my everyday table. 

How can you set your everyday dining table?

You need a possibly light-colored, neat, and well-ironed tablecloth with clean, matching napkins. 

If you have the chance, do not set the table in the kitchen, and, most of all, your table should be far from the tv. Focus on what you are eating and talk to your kids or companions. Most of all, avoid any meaningless distractions. 

Having meals in the kitchen—I do myself because my dining room is quite inconvenient and far—is easy and fast, but often it may result in losing control over what you want to eat. In fact, the quantity of food you have depends on how far it takes to get to it. When you have a meal in the dining room, you take the food you want to eat from the kitchen, and you eat only that. In the kitchen, you have ready access to the food, so as a result, you eat much more than you should. Self-control is needed!  

Get ready and tidy up for your meal, so: 

  • Wash your hands;
  • Wear suitable clothes (take your work clothes off);
  • Always comb your hair, and tie back long hair to prevent it from falling down on the plate or on the table; 
  • Switch all cell phones off, or leave them in another room so that nothing will distract you—the exception is if you are waiting on an emergency. 

Here are a few practical suggestions for setting a very formal table properly. This is certainly one way to impress a date:

  • Breakfast: set a placemat per person, a plate, a mug; and cutlery, appropriate for what you are eating; 
  • Lunch and dinner: use a neat tablecloth, place the plates and remember to leave about 2 feet (60 cm) between settings. Use paper napkins if matched with the tablecloth, a dinner plate and a soup bowl (according to the menu), a knife, a fork or two (depending on the formality of the meal), and a spoon. A glass for water and one for wine come next (I usually set wine glasses when we drink a little wine on the weekends). Do not forget the water pitcher, and the oil, vinegar, and the salt and pepper shakers. A small bunch of flowers in the middle of the table makes the difference, an aesthetic gesture. But if you want to be more practical, place the salad plate or bowl in the middle of the table. If serving bread like a hearty Italian loaf, only put out what you will eat with the meal. 

How can you set a formal dining room table?

First of all, put down a pad as it will protect your table from spills; moreover, it will soften the noise of the plates. 

  • Chose a plain-colored tablecloth with a drop from 8-16 inches (20 to 40 cm); 
  • The napkins should be quite big and paired with the tablecloth; fold them into rectangles and arrange them on the left of the place settings. If you do not have enough room, place it onto the plate. Check out the internet for some fun ways to fold napkins; 
  • Use chargers, or service plates, for special occasions. These are large plates used at full-course dinners to dress up special events. Chargers can catch pieces of food and prevent spills and messes. Place the dinner plate on the charger, then the mid-plate for the starter (if you serve the starter already plated up, do not use any mid-plates). Soup bowls will be served with the food; 
  • Put the knives and the spoons on the right of the charger; the knife blades should be facing towards the plate; 

More suggestions

  • The forks, no more than two, are placed to the left of the plate. You will get the other forks, if needed, with the various courses during the meal; 
  • There are no more than three glasses: one for the water and two for the wine. They are arranged altogether on the right over the knives; 
  • The bread plate is on the leftover the forks. if you are serving butter, place the butter knife on the bread plate with the blade facing the forks.
  • Arrange a water pitcher, a wine carafe, and wine coasters if you bring any wine bottles to the table. 
  • I like table centerpieces very much. They should be low in height so as to not hinder the sight of your dinner guests; flowers should not be too perfumed; otherwise, their scent might spoil the taste of the food. 

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4 thoughts on “How to Set a Table for an Italian Meal

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