I’m a child of the 80s, and I can vividly remember my older brothers going to cotillion etiquette classes. I never hear about those anymore, but back in the day they were all the rage. The boys would come home full of knowledge and helpful, completely non-annoying advice, like, “Get your elbows off the table!” and, “Stop scraping your teeth on your fork… Ugh, mom!”
I was never lucky enough to go to these magical classes that somehow made my brothers more sophisticated than me, but trust me when I say I didn’t need to. I heard ALL about it when they got home.
One useful thing I did learn from them, however, was how to properly set a table. And it has stuck with me all the way into my 30s.
Nowadays, families don’t often eat together at the dinner table — son is eating on a TV tray in the living room while watching SpongeBob, daughter is in her room on her iPad, mom and dad are upstairs eating on the bed while watching reruns of Project Runway. (Confession: this exact scenario happens in our very own home more than I’d like to admit, but we do try to keep the family dinner tradition going several nights a week.)
Eating with family was something I grew up doing every single night. Every single one. So often, in fact, that perhaps I’m rebelling a bit against my own wishes for a casual dinner once in a while by allowing us all to veg out in front of our chosen electronic devices a couple nights a week. Plus, my hubby and I both work mostly from home, so we’ve been with the kids since they got off the bus at 3pm, and we’ve already heard ALL about what Josie said to Aiden during recess and how Sam took Tommy’s toy car and would not give it back. So I don’t feel too bad about missing out on chit chat over dinner now and then.
But on those nights that we do set our table for family dinner, I ask my kiddos to help do just that: set the table. And to this day, I think of my brothers and those cotillion classes every time. I think it’s an important skill and etiquette lesson that they should learn young and always know how to do. I may not be the biggest etiquette-rule-follower, but this is a basic one that comes in handy daily (or several times weekly…).
Sometimes one of my kids will set the table alone, sometimes the other. Sometimes they’ll do it together — one gets dishes and glasses, the other gets napkins and silverware. However they want to divvy up the work is fine by me, but I do ask them to set the table properly, like so:
This is for a basic dinner table, when all you need is a fork, knife and spoon, a plate, a napkin and a glass.
For a slightly more formal meal, say Thanksgiving dinner, you might want to add a couple things: a salad fork, a soup spoon and a wine glass. Here’s how you set those on a table:
Of course, you can get really fancy with it. There are specific places for even more things, like a bread plate, bread knife, cake fork, dessert spoon, cup and saucer, multiple plates, etc. But for the vast majority of dinners, these two basics should get you through.
Do you think setting the table is an important skill for children? Are there other etiquette rules your children follow that may seem like a lost skill?