Have you ever been to a restaurant where the centerpiece or table setting was intriguing, sparking conversation between you and your companions? Or the chairs and tables were unique and bespoke, or even where the cutlery was so unusual you wondered where it was made? Well, as a restaurant owner, you’ll want to ignite similar inspiration when designing your own tablescapes. Which table settings will delight customers and which will make them raise their eyebrows in confusion?
Here are eleven restaurant table setting ideas that will impress your customers, make them talk about your restaurant for weeks, and bring them back in droves.
Seasonal flowers in creative vessels
There’s a reason that flowers are one of the most common table centerpieces; they lighten up any room. Your restaurant doesn’t have to spend a fortune on flowers to make pretty centerpieces. You can use seasonal flowers in creative vessels. From carnations in a bud vase (carnations will last up to a month if placed in sugar water) to a peony or hydrangea in a tin can decorated with ribbon to a single rose in a stem vase, floral centerpieces can be sparing yet pretty. If you have a bigger flower budget, then a mixed, seasonal floral arrangement in a trendy, low square vase is the way to go; hurricane glass and speckled silver glass is popular these days too.
For restaurants who don’t have it in the budget to change fresh foliage weekly, then you can create centerpieces with natural elements like twigs, scattered with twinkle lights, and small groups of succulents (everything in threes for the most stylish designs) in little glazed pots. Succulents are low maintenance, and inexpensive, but look pretty year-round. Some variety even flower. Twinkle light twigs will look rustic, and magical to create nature-vibes and ambiance.
Nothing inspires guests more than being reminded of a mad hatter’s tea party. Your restaurant doesn’t have to have matching china and crockery to get noticed. A mismatch of new, old, and vintage styles can add interest in the table scape and feel homely and warm – the only trouble might be in stacking the dishes! Either try completely mismatched pieces, or try something like a white dinner plate, a geometric, coloured side plate, and a flower-shaped salad bowl to create visual interest. Keep the table decorations unique and colourful too.
Slate, stone, or marble cutlery trays
A most unique table setting idea is to have a cut slab of stone, slate, or marble for customers to place their cutlery on. You can have the slate to the left or right side of the plate, and set out the knife and fork on it. That way the customer has somewhere – that’s not the table – to place his or her cutlery down between courses (if new cutlery isn’t provided), and, for the restaurant, it’s easier to wipe down the slate and replace it than to remove all the table decoration to wipe down any spills. It cuts down on flatware getting the placemats and the tablecloths mucky.
Napkins and placemats
For your restaurant, you don’t have to have boring white linens; you can mix it up with fabrics with different patterns and textures. Placemats can be wooden, linen, silky, bamboo, grasscloth, or other fabrics. You can have simple placemats, or a tablecloth and placemats, or even a runner and placemats. Try out new designs and variations. New swaths of fabric can be simple to add but create diversity. For a twist and to save on table cloth washing, try layering burlap table runners with ribbon or lace; these materials are inexpensive to replace if guests make stains that cannot be removed with laundering.
Most restaurants use candles to create ambiance, but you can create variety with candles. You can have tall tallows, or small tealights. You can group mismatched tea light holders, or even use LED tea lights for candles that will last (and not be a fire hazard). Candles will finish off your centerpieces, and make your space feel inviting to guests. Make sure to choose unscented candles as strong scents can put guests off their meal – and take away the focus from the chef who has worked hard to create a delicious dish.
A cloth napkin tied with twine and finished with a sprig of herb creates a memorable decorative item. Incorporate natural elements in your design to create a rustic, yet warm ambiance. Little plants, or twigs and dried fruits in a vase can add interesting variety too. Even a vase filled with limes, and then filled with flowers creates a visual spectacle.
Pattern, colour, and texture for linens
When choosing linens for your tablescape, make sure you keep pattern, texture, and colour in mind. It will seem quite boring to have a cotton napkin with a cotton tablecloth and a cotton runner. Make sure you vary your linens. Different patterns can be dramatic. Try a paisley tablecloth with a burlap runner with cotton napkins tied with twine or ribbon.
You can keep your colours complementary for a uniform look, mismatched and colourful for a whimsical look, or monochromatic for a more relaxed, calm feel. Think of the different materials and linens you’d use to create a nautical style, an Indian bazaar, a floral-inspired tea party, or an elegant mixed-metal display. Keep themes in mind when deciding on your designs. Linens can pack a lot of punch, but you don’t have to use everything. You can choose only to use cloth napkins and skip runners, placemats, and tablecloths altogether – it all depends on what you want the final product to look like.
Seasonal menu cards
On the continent, many restaurants have a seasonal menu card depending on the type of produce of the season, so in Germany in pumpkin season, you’ll see a Kurbis Carte (pumpkin menu), and in white asparagus season, you’ll see a Spargel Carte (asparagus menu), containing chef-specialty dishes using the seasonal ingredient. During asparagus season, you might be served a pile of white asparagus, boiled new potatoes, and a jug of melted butter, and for pumpkin season, you might see pumpkin soup, drizzled with pumpkin oil, topped with roasted pumpkin seeds, and served with pumpkin prosecco, or you might even see pumpkin risotto. For your restaurant, create a seasonal menu card. It not only adds something pretty and simple to the top of the bread plate that your customers can browse, it creates a timely offer. Your chef can develop a menu around the seasonal meats, veg, and fish available and your customers will want to share with their friends because the offer only lasts as long as the season or the supply.
Decorating for the holidays
Most guests want to get into the holiday spirit, but you don’t have to overload your centerpieces with Easter eggs, menorahs, stars and moons for Eid, or mini Santas to get your point across. Subtle decorations can add holiday cheer without going overboard. Try adding decorative coloured ribbons to tie the napkins or around wine glass stems, or create tasteful bunting or natural decorations. Even a little confetti can be fun.
Drama with monochrome
If you have a monochromatic palette for your restaurant, you can create the most impact with a monochromatic tablescape. Imagine a white tablecloth, white napkins, white plates, white (or silver) cutlery, milk glass, white tealight holders, and white flowers. A table design in the same colour or shade variations will make a beautiful, ethereal design. You can mix in some pops of colour in muted or bright colours for added variation too. For example, in a white tablescape pops of green, gold, or silver would add elegance (but red might be overpowering, for example). Monochromatic spaces are relaxing for guests as there’s not as much visual overload.
Monochromatic designs can manifest in using mostly one colour palette with the same colour palette even in the centerpieces (as above with white and gray as the main colours), or with natural centerpieces and similar shades (as to the right with black, grays, and natural elements working together).
No matter what table setting ideas you decide on, make sure you keep a theme in mind to help inspire you. That way you can select the centerpieces, the cutlery, stemware, and linens based on your theme. You can also keep little tweaks in mind that will take your tablescape from season to season too.
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