Place Cards – A little detail that completes the table setting
Place cards ensure that your guests are sitting in the pre-planned manner, the way you, as the host, want it. They are a small but important detail of your table and over all table decoration. As the host, you might not be able to see and help everybody to find his or her seat personally. Place cards will allow the guests to find their seat on their own. They will also avoid the awkward, “please go ahead” or “you first-no YOU first”, “left foot-right foot” shuffle around the dinner table, especially if you have invited guests that do not know each other very well.
“Pairing & partnering” the guests is a task that requires a lot of thought and knowledge of the guests’ characters, habits and personalities. The evening’s success will depend on it. Sit the open chatters and conversationalists with the quiet personalities and good listeners, the new comers with old established friends and the jokers with the laughers. I choose very carefully and according to criteria very personal to me.
There is no rule as to when one needs to have place cards; however, it is advisable to have place cards if you have guests from various groups of friends that do not know each other well. Place cards then also help to ensure that those with poor name memory (like me) have a little cheat at least for those sitting immediately around them.
Depending on the type of occasion you are having, the next decision would be on whether to yse full names, first names or even nick names. Again, the host is to be trusted to know the guests well enough to know when nicknames and first names are better and more suited as opposed to the Mr. Jack Smith/Mrs. Jane Smith formal address.
Having carefully selected and decided whom to sit where and next to whom, it only seems natural that the place card needs to honor and reflect the occasion and you as the host in design, originality and creativity.
Place Cards as part of your table setting
Place cards can add character, detail and wit to your table setting and are certainly one of those little details, that if done right, will gain many accolades and the admiration of your guests and if done just ordinarily will not be mentioned. Some thoughts to be considered when creating place cards:
• Place cards need to blend into the overall design and setting of the table. Consider the overall theme of the table setting, the color combination and the type of event that is to be held.
• Elegant, modern and rustic or romantic, the place card, need to reflect your personality in order to be admired; it must reflect you, your home and the occasion to be celebrated.
• Consider the size of the place card and the writing on it. It needs to be big enough so it can be read when standing behind the chair at the table and from the seats to the left and right side respectively, but small enough to be unobtrusive and not disturbing the centerpiece or the access to the stem and flatware.
• Fonts, colors and size of the writing, as well the kind of paper (or other materials) to be used, needs to reflect your creativity and the overall atmosphere you envision the occasion will have – elegant, formal, casual or relaxed.
• When choosing the color of the printing it is sometimes best to check the lighting as well, as often what looks good during the day may not be readable in dimmed light.
• The place card needs to stand solidly. There is nothing worse than place cards (with or without a holder) that topple over by the slightest touch and all throughout dinner.
Place cards do not exclusively need to be placed on top of the dessert spoon mid place setting. A few examples of alternative places are:
• Tying the table napkin with a decorative ribbon and tag it with the place card. Similarly, napkin rings can be used the same way. Using a personalized butter dish or wrapping the bread with a personalized ribbon are other ideas I have seen being used.
• The menu itself can feature the name of the guest as well and if placed right, this can double up as the place card.
The Place Card as a souvenir
Place cards often take on a dual function and double as the give-away, memento or souvenir of the dinner occasion. This is especially appreciated, if the item is home made, a reflection of a skill or craft you have or are known for. Place cards that are creatively crafted, unique and “surprising”, can be used as souvenir of the event for take home with the name being attached to the item in the form of a tag.
A few examples; a small bottle of your BBQ rub/spice on a BBQ party, a little jar of homemade jam on a Sunday brunch, a small spice bag with all that’s needed for mulled wine or a few Christmas cookies on a pre-Christmas gathering a small bottle of your favorite home made vinaigrette, a chocolate dipped seasonal cherry in a shot glass that has the name edged into it, a cinnamon bark (large pieces of the bark, can be written on) or dried pressed leaves which act as seasonal decorations during autumn & winter,preservatives or dried items, as mentioned above obviously work very well as they are not perishable, but fresh seasonal fruits or vegetables with the name dangling on a tag from the stem can also be very attractive.
Place Card Holders
Place card holders come in all forms shapes and materials. Mostly they have a slot somewhere where a place card can be inserted. In general they should be small and unobtrusive and sturdy enough to ensure that the place card won’t be pushed and shoved around the table when people use their dessert forks or spoons or wine glasses.
A few ideas:
• Small picture frames can be used for both a place card and as a souvenir. If you can print pictures you may be able to place the pictures of the pre dinner cocktail into the frames by the end of the night.
• Old fashioned type of laundry pegs can be used, by glueing the tag onto the inside of it so it will stand.
• Decorative tiles, as found in home builders or do-it-yourself stores, can be inserted into the soil of little seasonal pot plants with the name written on it. This can be done with seasonal flowers or fresh herbs which ever might suit your theme for the occasion.
• A slot can be sawed into small little bricks (terracotta or otherwise) or decorative wood pieces and then used as the place card holder.
• Cinnamon bark (large pieces of the bark, can be written on) or dried pressed leaves act as seasonal decorations during autumn & winter.
Of course, this being Chef’s Pencil, the ideas above mainly focus on food and food related topics, but there would be hundred more ideas that involve handicrafts. In the end it is your judgment of what will suit the occasion in terms of sense and style and most of all your creativity that will make a place card memorable, a standout and different from the usual little tent cards often seen on wedding banquet tables. Even small details, such as the place card, can become the talking point of the evening when created with flair, care and enjoyment.