How to Set a Formal Table With Flowers

Formal table setting with flower centerpiece by Bloom Sacramento

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Whether you’ll be hosting an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner this year or just having a few friends around the table for a fun get-together sometime in the next few months, the time to plan out your tablescape is now. No one wants to be trying to remember which one is the salad fork as Aunt Mable is pulling into the driveway. Follow along with us to gain some tips on how to set your table in a way to impress for lots of discerning family members, or just for yourself!

Basic Elements of Table Setting

When it comes to manners and formality, don’t expect to see me with a napkin tucked into my shirt collar anytime soon. (Wait, is that fancy or is that just something cartoon characters do?) As a suburban flower farmer, I spend just as much time scooping worms out of the way so I can plant corms as I do dressed in a way that wouldn’t make a maître d’ blush (by the way, did you know that was the correct way to spell that job title?). That said, it still pays to know these things for the times when you have folks over or want to treat yourself to a calm, refreshing dinner by yourself.

According to Emily Post, the gold standard for manners and formality, you should set a table with the utensils arranged in the order you will use them, starting from the outside. Here’s a fun trick to help you remember how to set a table:

Use the word “FOrKS” to remember what to do, from left to right:

  • F: Start with the forks, on the left of the plate
  • O: Moving to the right, the plate is shaped like an O.
  • r: Is for right, because now you’re moving to the right of the plate…
  • K: …where you’ll find the knife, followed by…
  • S: … the spoon(s).

Easy peasy, right? Honestly you really only need to know those basic rules. It’s not like you’re having the king of England over for dinner, right? And if you need to figure out where to put your oyster fork … can I come eat at your place?

Easy Ways to Enhance Your Table Setting

Now that you have the basics down, you can look at ways to improve your tablescape. I’ll assume you already have your finest plates, silverware and glassware out (did you have to dust it off like I did?), but have you grabbed a tablecloth and some cloth napkins, or maybe some place mats? An easy way to make those look even more refined is to iron the wrinkles out of them to make everything look nice and smooth. Fold the napkins (a simple fold is fine, unless you happen to know how to make them look like a swan) and place them on top of the plate or to the side.

Consider adding some candles — few things add a cozy, warm ambiance to your table, and this goes double in the colder fall/winter months. If you really want to have fun, you can add place cards for each person. My grandma loved to have everyone at formal holiday dinners decorate their own place card. Then she would mix everyone up so that no one sat next to their spouse/partner, to make for a more integrated conversation across the table.

How to Add a Floral Centerpiece to Your Table

Now for the (in my opinion) most important part! Flowers can make a tablescape look 10,000 times better — they add warmth, beauty, natural life, color, fragrance and so much more! And using locally grown, sustainable flowers like ours shows your commitment to making our planet a better place for many dinners to come.

If you’re creating your own floral centerpiece, choose flowers that are in season locally so that the feel matches the kind of dinner you’re serving. It wouldn’t really make sense to have tropical flowers alongside a fall meal with cranberry sauce and green bean casserole, at least not in California! And as much as I would love to see a table taken up entirely by flowers, be sure to choose a vase that fits the size of your table and leaves enough room for everything else you’ll be presenting. Consider using a low, wide vase so that your flowers aren’t too tall for people to see over. If you have a really small table, consider using bud vases to save space. But if you have a larger table or can keep some of the food on a separate serving table, go nuts with a big, bold and beautiful centerpiece.

*Psst* … Here’s where I am obligated to point out that Bloom has beautiful floral centerpieces available for Thanksgiving 2023, hand-delivered in the Sacramento area on Wednesday, Nov. 22 — just in time for Thanksgiving. These centerpieces, which use flowers grown as close to Sacramento as possible, include the vase and are the perfect way to bring life to your table this fall. You can order yours here.

If you create your own floral centerpiece for your dinner table a few days before the big night, try to store it somewhere cool (away from the oven / stove!) and be sure to change out the water as often as you remember (every day is best, but even I forget to do that most of the time). Hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy your centerpiece for many days and nights after your dinner. Once the flowers have finally run their course, be sure to compost them so they can support the growth of future plants!

Summary (tl;dr)

If, like me, you’re short on time, maybe you did a CTRL+F on this page looking for a quick summary. Welcome! Here’s a basic overview of what we discussed today and what you can do to beautify your fall dinner tablescapes:

  • Use the FOrKS rule of thumb: From left, the order of items at each place setting is fork, plate (shaped like an O), move to the right, then knife and spoon.
  • If you are busting out the cloth napkins and nice tablecloth, be sure to iron the wrinkles out of them.
  • Bring life and extra beauty to your table with local flowers when possible.
  • Be sure your flowers aren’t so tall that they block the view of your guests, and if your table is really small, consider using bud vases filled with flowers.
  • If you don’t have time to create your own floral centerpiece, consider letting Bloom take care of the Thanksgiving centerpiece this year!
  • Don’t forget to compost those flowers when you’re done with them!

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