Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Proper Table Setting for the Rich!

All said and done we're just so very fortunate in the modern world that formal dining has been reduced and streamlined into the most basic five-or-six course meal, with only eight-or-ten pieces of silverware required to get through a stuffy sit-down dinner.

In Victoria times there might have been twenty-to-thirty eating utensils at each and every place setting, all laid out for a sixteen or twenty-one course meal! Even the Titanic offered a ten-course menu in the first class section.

If you're a hostess or caterer you simply must take a peek at the following link - although personally it gives me a migraine to see all those utensils at just one place setting! Try to imagine if there were twenty or thirty guests coming for dinner! Here's the horrifying picture!

But again, modern formal tables are much more manageable for hostesses and caterers alike, not to mention the poor guests trapped at the dining table. After all, the Victorians had no television or computers, and certainly no iPhone's or digital streaming. So what better to way to spend an idle evening with rich friends than sitting down to full-course dinner for five or six hours? This was the era of chamber music, of course, so no doubt they had a pianist or string quartet on hand to disrupt the monotony. (I might also mention this was the era when gout was rampant among the rich and upper classes!)

Anyhow, this post is not so much about proper table setting or manners (which you can get from Emily Post) but more about what to do if you suddenly find yourself plunked down at a formal dining table. Maybe you're engaged to someone rich and your fiance's family invites you to dinner? Or perhaps you've been promoted and your boss invites you to a fine restaurant to celebrate? The first rule, even though confronted with ten pieces of silverware, is don't freak out!

You don't really need to know ANYTHING about formal dining to get through this meal, I promise. The table is set according to the menu, with each piece of silverware laid out in the order of what's being served, starting from the outside in.

For example, in America (unlike in Europe) salad is often the first course served. So the waiter brings out the salad on a small plate, sets it down on the large charger plate in front of you, and you pick up the small salad fork on your outside left - simple enough, right? When finished, he takes both the salad plate and fork away, leaving the charger in place for the next course.

Now, while forks always go on the left side of the plate, the exception is a small shrimp fork which goes on the right, next to the soup spoon. So if you see a tiny little three-prong fork on the extreme right of your plate, that means the waiter will bring out a shrimp cocktail next. He sets it down on the charger plate, and you pick up the little fork. When you're finished with that, he takes the cocktail dish and fork away, which leaves you with a big soup spoon on the right - meaning he'll bring soup out next. Getting the picture?

After the soup you'll probably be left with a fish knife on the outside right and a fish fork on the outside left. Then after the fish course you'll only have a dinner knife on the right and a dinner fork on the left, for the main course. And finally the only utensil left on the table is a dessert fork or spoon, probably laid horizontally above the charger plate.

So whatever you do, don't freak out or feel intimidated. If there's other utensils on the table I haven't mentioned, you can always pause (as you should anyway) to wait for your host to begin and see what piece of silverware he/she picks up first, then follow the lead.

A few pointers:

1) Once a piece of silverware is picked up, you never lay it back down on the table cloth. For example, when you're finished with the salad you leave the fork on the salad plate and the waiter will whisk it away.

2) The butter knife won't be on the right side of your plate along with the other knives, but laid on the small bread plate, set on the upper left of the charger plate.

3) If there's unfamiliar and bizarre utensils required, like a lobster cracker or escargot tongs, they'll most likely not be laid out on the table, but brought out when the lobster or snails are served. If you don't know how to use these, again just follow the lead of your host. (And if the first snail you pick up flies across the room because you squeezed the tongs too hard, don't even worry about it! You might get a good laugh - but everyone, including the rich, had to learn this at one point or another, and will love you for the effort.)

4) Right above the dinner knife on your right you'll probably find three different stemware; a white-wine goblet for the fish course, a red-wine goblet for the main course, and a water goblet. In extremely formal affairs there might even be a fourth glass - a champagne flute. But again not to worry; the waiter will bring out the appropriate wine with each course, indicating which glass you use first. (All you really have to worry about is knocking all the rest of them over when you pick one up.)

5) If you're nervous or sloppy and drop food on the charger plate, you'll probably get a frown from the waiter. But he'll politely whisk it away, replace it with a clean one, and no one will even notice during all the chatter and gossip.

6) As your mother taught you, no elbows on the table, ever. (Unless perhaps you're in a sports bar with a plate full of chicken wings and French fries in front of you.)

This has turned out to be way too long, but there's really no reason to be intimidated by a formal table. Just keep an eye on your host, go with the flow and above all, try to pretend you're enjoying it. Personally I'm satisfied with the blue plate special down at the diner - with a fork, spoon, and knife all rolled up together in a paper napkin.

Thanks for stopping by, and please forgive the ramble.

PS: The post right before this one has a more detailed explanation of how formal tables are laid out, if you think it would be helpful. Just don't let the diagrams frighten you.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Well, crap! I forgot to publish this!

Considering I have this day job around here, it takes about a week or ten days to research, write and edit a new post. And then what? I forget to hit the PUBLISH button? For real? I just found this in my drafts folder and I'm furious with myself for not sending it out sooner!

It concerns proper table settings, meant to be posted right before the holidays in case your parents or in-laws were coming and you might have needed a little help in knowing exactly where to put what on the dining room table.

It was inspired by my sister's recent visit to England. She stopped by Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and sent a photo of a wedding party setup in the main dining room. To pay the taxes on such an enormous estate the Palace apparently hires itself out for weddings, anniversaries, and other questionable occasions like that.

Anyhow, at first glance the picture was dazzling. Enough tables to seat fifty or sixty guests with fine china, crystal wine goblets, and sterling silverware up and down the line. But on closer examination when you enlarge the photo, the tables were so hastily set that I almost croaked.

I understand that busy caterers threw it all together and that it was just a wedding party after all, not a state dinner with Regina and Prince Phillip showing up. But the silverware was all crooked, not parallel, and not properly measured from the edge of the table. While there were two wine glasses at each setting for the red and white wines, the third goblet for water was missing. And not to get down in the mud, but the napkins were simply rolled up beside the plate, instead of all the fancy options out there.

I could understand this more easily if the wedding was in Buttzville, New Jersey in the United States. But in England, the very source and mother-load of propriety and manners? Maybe the British are a little less uptight than the upstart new-rich here in America. Who knows?
In any case here's a link to some really beautiful table settings, from casual to formal. And here's a link to the diagrams you might need.

Don't freak out! They all make sense according to what menu you're serving for the evening. If soup is not the first course then you wouldn't put out a bowl or soup spoon, right? Tables are set according to the menu.

Once you have a basic informal layout in mind, then you can always expand it - all the way up to a more formal table, complete with a white tablecloth and white linen napkins.

It's actually all pretty simple: knives and spoons on the right of the plate, forks on the left, and the drinking goblets go directly above the dinner knife. One important rule is that the blade of the knife is always turned toward the plate, not toward the spoons. (You don't want your guests cutting their fingers when they pick up the tea or soup spoon, right?)

Now don't be alarmed, but if you're serving an eight-or-ten course dinner then there's going to be a lot more eating utensils on the right and left of the plate than just the basic five. But that's a whole different topic, coming up next.

Again, I hope you'll forgive my lameness for not sending this out before the holidays. But there's always some kind of idiotic special occasion or formal affair to deal with all throughout the year, isn't there? So this might come in handy anyway from time to time.

Happy dining!


Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Milestone for the Blog!

It's hard to believe but as of this month we're beginning the fifth year of  "The Billionaires Butler"!

When I first began back in 2011 it was mostly a diary for family and friends about how the super rich live and conduct themselves on a daily basis. I seriously doubted anyone else would be interested, but that wasn't even important at the time. I just needed a place to write about my employers' amazing lifestyles, and to blow off steam from time to time at their occasionally shocking behaviors.

But all that has changed. Soon enough I began to realize that beyond my own circles there's a real interest in the way rich people live, how they spend all that money, and what they do with themselves in their daily lives. With just word of mouth advertising and Google search engines, there's over three-hundred-thousand readers to date, and the comments are in the thousands.

In fact it's the comments that have kept me going. Responding to readers from all around the globe has been the most unexpected fun of all, and has expanded the topics in ways I could have never dreamed of.

In any case, for this anniversary and the beginning of our fifth year, I can only say thank you so much for reading, and for your terrific comments that add to and explore our understanding of how the super rich live. Especially during these days when the divide between the rich and the poor are more scrutinized than ever.

I hope your new year is starting off well,