Learning to Cook · Miss Mary

Learning to Cook: Table Top

Photo credit: basheertome via Visual Hunt / CC BY
Photo credit: basheertome via Visual Hunt / CC BY

For those that love a beautiful table, baby this is for you.  I have friends who LOVE to do this.  Me I try to keep it simple but I also work at Pottery Barn and we have AMAZING Table Top items.

What constitutes Table Top?  Well, anything you eat with, eat on, drink from, decorate with, or serve with during your dining experience.  Those items are known as Flatware, Dinnerware, Drinkware, Table Linens, and Serveware.

This is the one section where everything YOU choose is personal.

Get the printable Table Top Essentials list: 2016 LTC Table Top Essentials

Let’s start with Flatware:  Knife, Fork, Spoon – Salad fork, Soup spoon

Years ago, 35 approximately, there was a program via Oneida where once a month you would receive a place setting of your knife, fork, salad fork, spoon, and soup spoon.  I went that route because I really couldn’t afford to purchase the entire set.  Today, these sets are readily available in big box stores such as Target, Walmart, Macy’s, JC Penny’s, or Pottery Barn and their prices vary according to budget.  (There’s that word budget again.)

What you need to research is how it feels in your hand, do you like the weight of each piece, and how do you like the curvature in your hand.  It’s different for everyone.  To get started, it depends on you – do you need the salad fork and the soup spoon, or would you like a full place setting.  I would suggest, starting out, determine the number you have for dinner every evening.  If it’s 2, some stores just sell piece by piece – I think Target is like that but not online.  But, if you can swing it, get a service for 4.  All of these items, except Macy’s, are services for 4.
2016 LTC serving pieces 2

Serving pieces can also be purchased in the brand that you choose for your flatware.  Serving pieces needed to begin with are:

  • 2 – Serving spoons (veggies, potatoes, salads)
  • 1 – Serving fork (meats)
  • 1 – Serving slotted spoon
  • 1 – Ladle

Here’s a good tutorial on setting a table.


You could go nuts in this section.  Given the multitude of options for dinnerware, it’s just personal style that you want to work with along with your budget.  Many stores will sell all the pieces one at a time or as a set.  My advice is go with white and accent with color.

As I stated before, I do work for Pottery Barn and we have tutorials on how to set a table.  When I suggested that you start with white, that’s for the dinner plate.  You can then, for each season or special occasion, change out the salad plate.  Example, this holiday season we had these beautiful Santa salad plates.  They looked fantastic on our white dinner plates, but also on the Red Cambria dinner plate.

Mixing this stuff is NOT my sweet spot.  I purchased my white dinner plates at Pier 1 years ago when they were $2 apiece.  They’ve lasted me at least 13 years.  Just recently, I picked up the salad plates for a setting of 8.  I’ve also switched our everyday 11” dinner plate to a 9.5” salad plate.  When you see empty space on your plate it’s like giving yourself permission to fill it up. NOTE: Measure the inside of your cabinet before you pick out your dinner plate.  Some dinner plates are TOO LARGE to fit into the cupboard.

The basic dinnerware set should consist of

  • Dinner
  • Salad
  • Dessert plate
  • Bowl – cereal or soup
  • Either a mug, or a cup and saucer

Drinkware & Barware

Open any cupboard and there’s just a sea of glassware.  I say purge it.  Do you really need your plastic yearly sorority cup from 10 years ago?  This is where Libby products are your friend.  You need a set of 7” 15 ounce Tumblers to start.  I have a Costco set of plastic 20 oz colored cups that we use outside in the summer, and my protein shake everyday.

What should we say about coffee cups?  I’m just going to remain silent on this.

When it comes to the bar, you’ll need wine, double old fashioned, high ball, Pilsners, and stein glasses.   There are specialty cups such as copper Moscow mules, or martini glasses to consider.  And I have noticed that with certain beers they are serving them in brandy snifter glasses.

A little about wine glasses: there’s a white wine glass, a burgundy glass, stemless, and goblet.  If you’re really into wine, this may be very important to you when you serve it along with a decanter.

Don’t forget coasters.  The last thing you want is a ring on your new coffee table.

Table Linens

I always use placemats.  You can pick these up almost anyplace.  Just make sure you can wash and reuse them.  Crate and Barrel always has a nice assortment.  So does Pottery Barn, Walmart, Target, JC Penny, and Homegoods.  Don’t forget about the napkins.  Napkins may also be used in the bread basket.

Runners and Table cloths

You need to know the length of the dining/kitchen table when you go to purchase a table runner.  Homegoods always has a lot of runners.  Pottery Barn only has those that are 108” long.  A runner should hang over by at least 8” on either side.  Same with a table cloth.  Always read the care instructions of both items.  Try to remember the shape of your table too.  I know that seems weird, but you would be surprised people don’t remember their table has leaves and it ends up being an oval table instead of a rectangle.


Some bakeware and mixing bowls can serve as serveware.  Such as the Corningware French white, the Pyrex or Anchor pie plates, and the Anchor nesting glass bowls at Amazon.  Depending on the type of foods that you serve, if you’re into pasta, maybe a pasta bowl from William Sonoma is for you.  The typical things that you need are a medium and a large serving bowl, a platter and a few of the listed dual purpose things I’ve mentioned.


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