A table for you

The dining table is a focal point in the house, whether for family meals or a party. It certainly deserves to look good, writes Anju Munshi.

An impeccable home with not a thing out of place is what most of us want in our homes with style as a strong statement. Normally we go out of our way to clean up and beautify our homes only when we are having people over for cocktails, dinner parties or eventful luncheons, and once the show is over, the house comes back to its old self.

But why not incorporate the style in everyday living? After all we live in this home, and it is not for guests alone. The dining table, for instance, is integral to the house, whether for everyday eating or for a party. Presenting it beautifully, and with care, makes a difference to the way we enjoy our food too.

What is table dressing?

In ultra-conservative Victorian times, even the legs of the table were covered up! Today the formal table also ideally does not show too much leg but variations on the linen can fit into different occasions. Table clothes, dinner napkins, lunch and cocktail napkins, doilies, tray covers, jug covers, hand towels, mats and runners can be an intrinsic part of table-dressing.

 A stiffly starched or a lightly embroidered soft cotton tablecloth creates a certain ambience and brings completeness to the dining experience. Whether formal or casual, it adds that special touch to an occasion.

A special occasion could become a lasting memory with flowers, candles, placemats and sparkling cutlery. “Runners are sometimes preferred at the dinner table but for formal dining, 8 to 12-inch drops on all sides are recommended; for casual dining, a 6 to 8-inch drop is sufficient,” says Chandrani Pradhan, owner of a restaurant in Darjeeling .

For a more dramatic look, lengthen the drop on each side. This will create a puddle effect on the floor and is ideal for lavish celebrations. “Whether it is to show off the beauty of your tablecloth, table sets, table decor is an art; it dresses up and sets the stage for your dining experience,” says Pradhan. 

Accidents occur, of course, despite the best of efforts. Especially so, while serving meals, like barbeque sauce, spaghetti, pizza, curry or Chinese spread with all kinds of sauces. But if the well-decorated table linen gets soiled, maintenance is not difficult today as effective stain removers are readily available.

The napkin collection in the hospitality industry is a serious business. With some basic education, one can dress up any table with élan. Simple hem-stitched linen, crochet, lace, embroidered...all styles are important to add variety to one’s collection.

It is generally said that good well starched table cover with white napkins, hem-stitched or lace or embroidered ones, is an introduction to the host, for they leave a lasting impression on their guests and actually dress up a party, says socialite Neelam Moitra of Kolkata.

What size?

“A 20” is considered to be an acceptable size for dinner napkins, while cocktail size napkins measure 6”x6”. The lunch size napkins should measure 13x13 inches. “The idea is not to be rigid but introducing beauty in your daily table-setting regimen for food is also about visual appeal,” reiterates Moitra.

For daily requirements, one can have a pile of napkins that wash well and are resistant to hardy wear and tear. “An old bedspread could be made into multiple lunch napkins and could be crocheted on the sides. It could also be cut into a big round for a round table or with some alterations can make into a perfect table cover for other shapes too. Make sure that whatever you use it for,the edges are neatly done up to give a new look,” says Mallika Sen, who loves  entertaining in style at her cosy cottage in Kalimpong.

Fold the style in

Napkin folds should be kept fairly simple, and the napkin should be placed next to the salad fork or on the top of the side plate. If the party is served buffet style the napkins will be piled up along with the plates.

 “When you are finished with your tea and food, the napkins should be placed to the right of the plate on the table. In case you need to leave your seat during the meal, it is acceptable to place the napkin on your seat until you return. You should also neatly fold your napkin in half or quarters and place it on the table. There is no need to fold it as neatly as it was in the beginning of the meal, but it shouldn't be crumpled or balled up either, says Sen.

If your dinner/ lunch /tea is formal, cloth napkins are really the best way to go. If slightly informal, or for very large function like a children’s tea party, group function, conferences or a working meal, the unattractive but very convenient paper napkins are fine to use.

For the home one should invest in the easy to maintain napkins, not only cotton but a mixed material that is easy to wash and dry. They have to washed frequently  and neatly folded so that there is no need to iron them. The children should be taught the habit of spreading a napkin evenly on their laps and to fold them when they are done, so that eating clean becomes a lifelong habit.

Doilies are a great way to dress up small tables or trays. The doilies make decorative accents to any table, dresser or sideboard. A packet of paper doilies can be used on small serving plates for tea time treats. With the visual appeal the mundane biscuits and savouries acquire new dimensions.

Not to forget the hand towels. From the guest bath to the kitchen, linen guest towels are great accessories to welcome friends into the house. 

One can make individual towels for the son or daughter by getting them monogrammed with their initials or just embroider it with some favourite designs. Even hemming it with a contrasting ribbon or  lace gives a special feeling to the everyday towel.

The idea is to enjoy the ambience in the house where personal care immediately shows.   

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