This section is from the book "Practical Cooking And Serving", by Janet McKenzie Hill. Also available from Amazon: Practical Cooking and Serving: A Complete Manual of How to Select, Prepare, and Serve Food .
Dining tables are round, square, or long and oval; the oval table is a novelty just now, but there is no shape of table at which a seat gives as attractive and comprehensive a view of the guests and the whole ensemble as the round. Round tops are made at an expense of $5.00 upward; these are placed above an ordinary dining table, to secure space to seat the number of guests desired. The larger the table the larger the space that can be given up to floral decorations, as the plate line is the same, or nearly the same, for all tables; fifteen or sixteen inches is about the proper width for the "covers," dinner plates being ten inches in diameter. Table tops are made of pine wood and are hinged in the centre, the hinges being sunk into the wood; thus they fold and occupy less space in storage. A round table five feet in diameter will accommodate six people comfortably; it may be used for eight. A table five feet square affords ample space for eight people. A round table seven feet in diameter seats twelve people, giving about twenty-five inches for each cover.
First of ail spread upon the table a soft, double-faced cotton material made for the purpose. This interlining protects the table, insures against noise in setting silver and china in place, and enhances the beauty of the linen. Above this is laid the linen cloth laundered without folds, save one lengthwise exactly in the centre of the cloth. In placing the cloth upon the table, let this fold come exactly in the middle of the table. Fineness and firmness are desirable qualities in table linen. In purchasing, select the natural bleached linen rather than that with the high glaze and stiffness of artificially bleached linen. Launder without starch as a rule. Starch is not required save in well-worn linen. Round cloths for round tables are no longer in demand. None but an expert laundress could iron these to hang properly. The cloths for tables five feet in diameter, round or square, are woven with a handsomely designed centrepiece that extends to the plate line and sometimes to the edge of the table. The border of a very handsome cloth seen recently had a design of field daisies, the long, straight stems of which began at the selvedge and ended with the blossom, at graduated length, just below the edge of the table. The pattern of another was tulips and foliage, and so perfectly had it been laundered that each tulip seemed lifted up from the surface of the cloth. Or the damask may be woven to fit the table top and finished with a deep border of heavy handmade lace with an interlining of silk. An all-lace "cloth" over silk, of a shade that harmonizes with the general color scheme, is admissible, but the damask seems quite as appropriate for the serious business, of dining.
Centrepieces are made in shapes to fit the table - round, oval square or oblong. These are of embroidered linen, drawnwork or lace; the two latter are often used over silk. In size, these centrepieces are small, a little larger than the table mirror, which often rests upon them, or they extend to the plate line. The English "runner" is just now in vogue for long tables; this often occupies all the space to the covers. The centre is of lace or embroidery and the edge affords space for low vases of flowers and candlesticks, which are disposed alternately in and out the entire length on each side.
The napkins, or serviettes, as our English friends would say, should be large and of the same pattern as the cloth. In laundering these, fold in halves lengthwise, then fold again lengthwise having the side with the selvedge edge upward; then fold over in the middle and one end back to the central fold; turn the napkin over and fold the other end to the central fold. (The napkin can be opened accordion fashion.) Place the napkins on the service plate, or at the left of the forks, or, when the plate holds oysters or canape, fold by hand in the middle and place above the plate. If cards be used to seat the guests, these should be placed upon the napkin. At dinner a roll, a piece of bread two by three inches, or three bread sticks tied together, are often placed, in sight, within the folds of the napkin. At luncheon any of these with a ball or neatly shaped piece of butter is placed on a bread and butter plate with a butter spreader, a little to the right and above the plate. Butter not being served at dinner or at very formal luncheons, this plate does not then appear. Some times, at luncheons the individual butter plate is used, when the little plate would crowd the cover, as when wine glasses take up the space.
At the place of each individual, the plate and serviette, with such knives, forks, spoons, glasses, etc., as are needed for that particular meal, make up what is called "the cover." Twenty inches of space is the least that should be allowed for each cover; twenty-five or thirty are better, and less than thirty inches would not do on a formal occasion. On formal occasions, a richly decorated dinner plate - about ten inches in diameter - is set at each cover, one inch from the table's edge, when the table is laid. The oyster and soup plates are placed, in turn, upon this, and, later, it is exchanged for the plate upon which the first hot course, after the soup, is served. When there are plenty of maids, thus avoiding drawing out the meal to an unseemly length, it is considered au fait to have a plate in the centre of each cover continuously, until the clearing of the table for dessert.
At the right of the service plate, dispose as many knives as will be required before the dessert, each with cutting edge toward the plate. At the right of the knives, lay the soup spoon with the inside of the bowl upward; beyond this the fork for oysters and other hors d'oeuvre; so that, beginning with the oyster fork, the utensils on the right of the service plate be laid in the order of use. Beginning at the extreme left of the service plate, arrange the forks in the order of use, having the last used close to the plate. The tines should be turned up.
When the number of courses is such that but two or three knives and forks are required, the dessert fork may be placed upon the table with the other forks and nearest the plate, with the dessert spoon above the plate.
Spoons or forks for punch and spoons for after-dinner coffee are best laid by the plate or saucer at the time of serving. Indeed, the table can be cleared more neatly for the dessert if all the silver for dessert be put in place when needed.
At the upper right hand of the service plate, at the tips of the knives, set the glass for water. This holds when wine is not served. When the dinner includes wine, the glass for water stands nearly in front of the plate and the first wine glass to be used is placed at the points of the knives; the other wine glasses are disposed in one or two half circles, in the order of use, between this and the water glass. When but one wine is served at dinner, a choice is made of claret, sherry or champagne. When several wines are served, sauterne (in a tall colored glass) is poured for the oysters, and the glasses are refilled when the fish has been served. Sherry is served with the soup, champagne with the roast, and Burgundy or claret with the game. Occasionally champagne is served with the game, and claret with the roast. The glasses are filled after the serving of the course.