How to Set the Perfect Dinner Table with Rachel Bates

When it comes to setting the perfect dining table, I always approach it with same ingenuity and creativity that I apply to the design of a product or any interiors scheme. My ‘only rule’ is that ‘there are no rules’, apart from observing cutlery etiquette, of course!

Entertaining is supposed to be fun, so just go for it, and make your table a unique and special place for your guests to spend time around. The most important thing to remember is to always dress your supper table as you would dress yourself, with style, elegance & panache!




Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Before you begin to set the table, the most important thing to consider is the seating – the key element of any successful lunch or supper party. A stunning table, delicious food, wine, even tantalising conversation, won’t keep your guests seated for long if they are not relaxed and comfortable.

Allowing enough seating space for each guest is crucial, there should be at least 24cm of elbow space per person seated. The final positioning of the chairs will dictate where you position your table settings, providing you with the perfect finished arrangement.




The Night Before…

The key to a successful supper party is to make sure you set your table the day before. This will enable you to take your time and create a gorgeous and memorable setting in which to entertain your guests. It will also take the pressure off you the next day when you are busy adding the finishing touches to your menu.

Before you embark on setting and styling the table try to ensure you have everything that you need to hand, it will make your job much simpler. Make a check list that you can refer to on each occasion. This should include items such as; linen, placemats, crockery, cutlery, crystal, serving platters, name places, candles, vases, napkin rings, ice buckets, favours or little gifts and any other interesting items you may consider using for decoration depending on your theme.


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Freshly Laundered Linens

When it comes to linen, if you are using a tablecloth it must be pressed to perfection, there is nothing worse than creased & crumpled linen!

Like any great foundation, a crisp white linen table cloth is the perfect neutral base on which to build the design and theme of your table. However, if you own a statement table, like the Rachel Bates “Ophelia Table’ show it off and make it part of the scheme. 

I like to display linen napkins simply folded or decorated with a lovely napkin ring or something fun depending on the occasion on top of each side plate. For example, at Christmas I may tie the napkin with a ribbon and a lovely bauble, or for a garden supper I may decorate with a ribbon and a little foliage. It’s these individual touches to your table setting that makes the difference. 

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A Stunning Centrepiece

The next stage is to add your centrepiece – the piece de resistance of any table! Try and think of fun ideas for the decorations that will provide a talking point and ice breaker for your guests, particularly if they are meeting each other for the first time. I like to start off with some foliage or greenery as a foundation and then add in extra decorations that are appropriate to the season or theme.

For example, at Christmas try a garland of pine and holly down the centre of the table (you can work into a ring if it’s a round or oval table) then add small antler, or lots of pheasant feathers, jewel tone baubles & ribbons and lots of candles. I have worked many variations on this theme over the years and it always provides a huge wow factor.


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Botanical Beauty

In my world, flowers are everything. They have an important place in my home in almost any situation. For me, a dining table without flowers is just missing that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ Flowers bring your table to life and tie everything together in perfect harmony.

Instead of just using conventional vases, I like to use all manner of different vessels to make the flowers for the table a little more interesting. I often use my ‘Peacock & Blossom’ Crystal Magnum Coolers as oversized vases for central floral displays, they look rather magnificent.

Lots of small individual floral arrangements dotted around the centre of the table with mini candles looks very attractive. Plus, you can see all the guests at the table rather than straining your eyes peering through giant displays of foliage all night. For this, I would use my Tallulah crystal shot glasses, Limoges expresso cups or my Genevieve aperitif glasses. Or for something a little bigger, the glass container from my Botanical Candle after the wax has burned away.




Twinkling Light

Candles of course are a must for any Rachel Bates table setting. I love to add an abundance of tea lights to make the table twinkle. This is particularly important for evening entertaining and especially so on dark winter nights.

I like to place tea lights in my small Marie Dagge, Limoges floral bowls, which I add water to so that the candles float around like lilies on a pond. To complement the bowls, I usually use some antique cranberry hock glasses which also house tea lights floating in water to add different levels to the light to the table. This is a much safer and cleaner way of creating candle light than using candle sticks that may be prone to drip on to your table.




Think Outside the Box 

There is no hard and fast rule to creating the perfect table setting. In fact, I think it’s fun to use items in different ways, other than just for their intended use. For example, a small soup or amuse bouche can look super served in an expresso cup, while I like to serve a scoop of sorbet as palette cleanser in a tipple glass.

The one thing is sure is you’ll always find an abundance of crystal on my dining table as I like guests to have a champagne coupe or flute at their setting as well as the obligatory glasses for water, white wine & red wine and so on.

Even if guests have been drinking champagne before dinner, we always collect the pre-supper glasses as I like them to have a fresh glass on the table for when they are seated.


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Final Touches

The final touch I add to a table is a favour for the guests. I usually place this directly on top of the place setting and it’s also a useful way of tying a place name to the gift.

I like to use items like scented candles for the ladies and usually something edible for the men, often a small box of special chocolates from Rococo. I have found over the years that the chaps seem to become far more excited at the sight of chocolate than the ladies!



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Rachel Bates
Genevieve Aperitif Glass

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Peacock Fluted Edge Serving Dish

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Horatio Carver Dining Chair
Missoni Fabric

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Botanical Candle – Large

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Antoinette Crystal Champagne Cooler

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Champagne Flute – Duck/Peacock

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Linen Napkins – Grey

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Tallulah Tipple Glass – Fuschia

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Large Flower Serving Bowl


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