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How to Set a Restaurant Table

Learn how to set a restaurant table from restaurateur Paul Bolles-Beaven in this Howcast video.


When I was a child, my task at home was to set the table. I think a lot of people grew up with the chore of setting the table in their house. Interestingly enough, when you become a restaurant professional, you spend a lot of time setting tables. Setting tables is all about making it prepared for what is to come. When you are setting a table, your goal is to make sure that the guests have everything that they need. That it is very pleasing to the eye. Makes them completely comfortable and allows them to relax and enjoy a wonderful meal. Everything that is on a restaurant table has to be beautifully polished and clean. It has to be pressed if it is linen. It has to be polished if it is silverware or glassware. Even if it is paper napkin, it should not have any creases. It should look clean and untouched.

It is very important that anything that goes anywhere near guests' mouth is never touched by your hands. The guests do not want to see that and they do not want to know that it is happening even if it is at another table. You should always handle all service ware from the part that will touch the guests hands. Silverware is handled by the handle. Stemware for wine is handled by the stem. Glasses are handled below, far below, where the person's mouth will touch the glass.

A table is like a wall. The service ware on it is like a piece of art. If it is crooked, it will bug everybody. It will never feel right. You need to be very, very careful when you are setting a table to make sure that things are properly positioned. That they are parallel in the ways that they should be parallel and perpendicular in the ways that they should be perpendicular. They should line up and be even. They should not be askew in any particular way. Opposite sides of the table should be a mirror image of each other. That is very calming and relaxing to the guests. If things are sloppy or thrown on the table, it sends a message to the guests that nobody is really taking care of the table top.

To set a table for the first time, the first thing you do is take care of what is on the bottom. If it is a bare tabletop, you should wipe it down and make sure it is clean and free of any grease or crumbs. If it is a paper covering that your restaurant uses, there should be a fresh clean piece of paper without any holes or creases in it. If your tabletop is linen covered, the linen should be squarely placed on the table and ironed either pressed with your hands or with an iron to make sure that it is absolutely pristine.

Then you lay down the silver that is required on the table and the napkin in the way that the restaurant has decided that you should set each table before a guest sits down. Some tables are preset with wine glasses or water glasses or both. There may be salt and pepper on the table or a small vase with flowers, or in the evening, a candle. All of these things should have a proper place and they should be in that place before the guests approaches the table.

Another important part of table setting is what is called marking. When you set a table for a next course, you a marking that table. It is important, for example, that people have the steak knife that they're going to need before their steak is delivered. Obviously, they need their glass before they get their wine. It is the same concept. If you are a server and you are responsible for the table, you need to make sure that it is properly marked, that the guests have exactly what they need for what is about to come for them.

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