Waiter Training: How to Set Up a Table – The Equipment


How to set up a table?

Here you can read what you need to set up a table, what you need to watch out for and how it is done correctly. It has very detailed information and I want to show you the procedure for a fully set table in a fine dining environment.

Setting up the tables in your restaurant fully and completely is one of the essentials and really important procedures. How do you want to welcome, seat and provide a pleasant dining experience for your guests, if the tables are not set up correctly? Without that you cannot start your service!

What do you need?

Here is the list of items you need to set up a table:

  • Proper sized table cloth, ensure it is washed, ironed and has no holes or stains
  • Fitting underlay (molton) to make the table feel soft and to avoid noises when placing anything on the table like plates, glasses, etc. Many times, restaurants are using two different kinds of table cloth (big & small) to create a nicer atmosphere, avoid noises and it can make it faster to change the table clothes, because often just the small overlay needs to be changed.
  • Iron or steamer
  • Show plate or charger
  • Cutlery, depending on the style of pre-setting. Here I like to use starter and main course cutlery to be set up. This makes it easier to adjust to your restaurant. So you need main course (meat) fork and knife as well as starter fork and knife.
  • Bread & butter plate (B&B)
  • B&B knife
  • Dessert fork or any other small fork to be used to eat the Amuse bouche (a small delicacy created by the Chef, served complimentary for guests at the very beginning of the meal). Sometimes a small spoon (coffee spoon) might be necessary instead.
  • Napkin folded accordingly to the restaurant standards, theme or style
  • Glassware, again accordingly to the restaurant set up style. In this case I like to set up a water glass/ goblet, red- and white wine glass.
  • Fresh flower or any other decoration for the table accordingly to the restaurant theme
  • Candle stand with a new candle, set by the restaurant standards

All glassware, cutlery and chinaware mentioned needs to be spotlessly clean, polished and free of watermarks. That also means, especially glassware, has to be odor free!

In addition, all equipment has to be free of any damages, chips, marks and/ or fingerprints!

How many items of each you need depends, of course, on the number of person you want to set up for. Now, we want to set up a table for two guests, sitting opposite each other, a individual free standing table with 4 chairs.

I am assuming that this table will be set up for dinner, because in that case, we need the most equipment and the service will be more sophisticated (but again, depending on the restaurant).

How to do it?

After all the equipment has been collected we can start now to set up the table. This table will be set up for 2 guests for dinner, sitting opposite each other and on a free standing table with 4 chairs.

  1. Check the table and make sure it stands stable, does not wobble (i.e. adjust the screws under the legs of the table, put a cork slice under the leg, etc, if it does wobble) and there is enough space to the next seating arrangement as well as there are no splints, holes, broken edges or other unevenness’s on the tabletop.
  2. Place the underlay (table cloth or thin rubber mat) on the tabletop. If you use a tablecloth: Handle it with care and hold it only on the edges with your finger tips. Avoid wrinkling and staining at all times. Ensure the cloth is placed centered with the same length hanging down on all sides. For the thin rubber mat: Place it centered and ensure that it lays flat without waves and wrinkles and the entire table top is covered to avoid glasses or other equipment from tipping. Also, the crease around the edges of the cloth need to face down.
  3. Put down the overlay as set by the restaurant standards. There are different styles to do that, but you need to make sure to handle the cloth carefully and touch it as less as possible to avoid here again, wrinkles and stains. It needs to be centered and hanging in equal length on all sides
  4. Iron or steam the tablecloths thoroughly to remove all remaining wrinkles on top and on the sides. Ensure the iron has a clean surface! Maybe you need to iron the cloth before putting on the table.
  5. Set the show plate (or charger) in the middle of the table, a thumbnail length away from the edge. In case you are using a second plate on top of the show plate, place it in the center of the first one. Make sure the plates are polished, shiny, clean, not damaged, chipped or broken.
  6. Setting up the cutlery is the next step. Place the main course knife on the right side of the show plate, a thumbnail away of the edge of the table and just 2-3 mm away from the show plate. The blade facing the show plate on the left side. Next to it to the right side goes the appetizer knife. The distance between both knives should not exceed 2-3 mm as well, but not touching each other. The main course fork goes on the left side of the show plate in the same way like the main course knife, just 2-3 mm away from the show plate and a thumbnail length from the table edge. The appetizer fork goes to the left of the main course fork, 2-3 mm away from each other (measured at the boldest part, the fork rakes). Both, forks and knives are set up in an exact 90 degree angle to the table edge.
  7. Placing B&B plate and knife: The plate is to be set on the left side of the appetizer fork and 5 cm away from the edge of the table (here are plenty of opinions out there of where the plate should be placed. Ask your superior, how it is done in your restaurant.) Put the B&B knife on the right side of the B&B plate (in the middle of the right half of the plate), resting on the rim and parallel to the appetizer fork.
  8. The napkin could go in the center of the show plate. Napkin placements are always depending on the form, style, folding, restaurant environment and atmosphere, but always ensure that you touch the napkins as less as possible, since your guests are most likely using it for or around their mouth.
  9. Add the glasses to the set up. There we have three glasses, one red wine glass, one white wine glass and one water glass (water goblet). The first glass you set on the table is the red wine glass, since this is the one, which will be most likely used for the main course. Put it on top of the main course knife, whereby the center of the stem is in line with the knife. How high above the knife varies with the style of the glass set up. It can be a line or a cluster. Let’s do it in a line. Adjust the distance to the main course knife so that the white wine glass can fit under it without touching any cutlery. The white wine glass goes on the right side of the red wine glass in a 45-degree angle under it. The distance between the two glasses should be as close as possible, but they should not touch each other. The thickness of a postcard is just perfect. Now, the water glass goes again in a 45-degree angle under and to the right side of the white wine glass. Most likely, this glass will be off the appetizer knife. Again, the distance between water- and white wine glass should not exceed the thickness of a postcard. In case, the set up should be a cluster. Just move the water glass on top of the wine glasses, so that it is building a triangle. The same rules for distances are applying as well.
  10. Glassware handling: Always handle glassware with care. It is better to carry less then dropping and/ or breaking them. Hold wine glasses at the stem and carry the on a try or hanging between your fingers. Never touch the glass itself, because it will leave fingerprints on it.
  11. Flowers and candles and table decoration are usually on every table. Salt & pepper are set depending on the restaurant as well as other equipment and condiments. Flower vases are either way placed in the middle or on one side of the table. It applies for candles and other deco items too. Ensure the flowers and all other equipment and condiments are fresh, clean and not damaged, chipped or broken. Also, flowers need to checked for spider webs and other bugs.

In order get a fully symmetric, clean and organized impression of the table when guests are arriving and getting seated, here some tips of how you can achieve that:

  1. Set the show plates exactly opposite each other and in the middle of the table on each side.
  2. Align the cutlery in a way, so that they are set exactly opposite as well, whereby the main course knife is aligned with the main course fork and the appetizer knife with the appetizer fork
  3. The glasses should look parallel to each other, if they are set in a line.
  4. The chairs are rounding up the entire picture. These need to be absolutely clean (sometimes they have gaps between the seat, the arm rests and the back rest; check in between!), stable and not wobbling.Adjust them in a way, so that they are in front and center of the show plates and the tablecloth is not touching the chair. Meaning the chair should not be moved under the table, but this also depends on the restaurant.
  5. At the end, have a good glance over the entire set up and ensure that all items are set properly, are clean, undamaged and in a perfect condition.

The same procedure can be applied to seating arrangements of four and more guests. Very important is always the alignment of the cutleries, show plates and glassware.

That is it for the beginning. Try it and you will see after a few times that it is not that difficult!Practice it!

Serve others and make a difference!

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