Barefoot Contessa: Ina Garten’s 10 Tips for Setting a Table

Not sure how to set a table for a dinner party? Ina Garten’s table setting tips cover everything from linens and flowers to utensils and tables. Follow the Barefoot Contessa tips to turn the process into one of the celebrity chef’s How easy is that? moments.

Ina Garten’s table setting tips include details on table size and shape

Ina Garten smiles as she raises a glass to toast
Ina Garten | Mike Smith/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Don’t panic if the table is a little on the smaller side. Garten once called a too-large table a “party killer.” In her Barefoot Contessa cookbook, Back to Basics, she shared specifics. 

“For small groups, round tables are best: 48 inches for six people, 54 inches for eight,” she explained. “A 60-inch round is too large to talk across, so for 10 or more people I prefer a narrow rectangular table.” 

Her ideal dinner party size? Six people. That way, there are more opportunities to talk to everyone. 

The Barefoot Contessa likes having a make-ahead moment with the flowers

Garten’s famous for her make-ahead dishes. She has an entire cookbook on them. Turns out, she likes to make floral arrangements ahead of time too. 

As she explained in Back to Basics, it’s best to make flower arrangements at least one day ahead. That way, the flowers have time to fully open. 

Garten’s tips on ironing tablecloths and napkins

See Garten on Barefoot Contessa creating a tablescape and, chances are, cloth napkins and a tablecloth are part of the setup. They’re not wrinkly but ironed to perfection. 

So how does Garten do it? She irons the tablecloth being sure to remove any “creases created when the cloth was folded.” Then she stores them “rolled on cardboard tubes or hung on dowels to keep them pressed.” As Garten often says, how easy is that? 

As for the napkins, she suggests ironing them in “flat squares,” before folding and placing them in the middle of the plate or to the left of the forks. 

Garten’s guide to silverware

Not sure where the utensils and drinking glasses go on the table? Garten’s table setting tips include details down to the dessert fork and spoon. 

In her cookbook, she shared that setting a table like a pro means the knives and spoons go to the right of the plate and forks go to the left. Remember that scene in Titanic when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson isn’t sure which utensil to use and Kathy Bates’ character tells him to start from the outside? The same basic rule applies to Barefoot Contessa table settings, or any table setting, too. 

“The utensils that are used first go to the outside (farthest from the plate),” Garten said. “For example, the appetizer fork goes first, the main course fork goes to its right, and the dessert fork goes closest to the plate.” 

The same can be said for the knives. If there happens to a lot of utensils that need to go on the table, it’s also OK to place the dessert fork and spoon at the top of the plate. 

As for the glasses, place them at the top of the knife. To the right should be the wineglass. If place cards are part of table setting, per Garten’s table setting tips, it’s fine to put them on the top of, or just above, the plate. 

Garten puts a (sort of) spotlight on the table

So Garten’s table setting tips don’t say to shine an actual spotlight on a table. However, she does say to create one in a way. She advises that the light on the table be brighter than the surrounding ambient light. “It brings everyone’s attention to the center and it makes a better party,” she explained. 

The Barefoot Contessa makes sure everyone will be able to see each other across the table

Candles are a Barefoot Contessa do for table settings. They help with the aforementioned spotlight concept. But don’t choose particularly tall candles. 

Garten suggests placing low votive candles on the table “so your guests can see one another clearly.” 

Lastly, Garten advises one last check that everyone will be able to see each “past the candles and flowers to the person who will sit on the other side.”

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