While Christofle brand manager Justin Trabert says that the most important element of any dinner party is the guest list, he suggests that "building" the table is one of four key components to a successful repast including the menu and proper use of silver pieces.
"The food can be exquisite, decor beautiful and the hostess gracious," he said in a telephone interview from home base in Bal Harbour, Fla. "But if the guests find the conversation boring or, worse yet offensive, they will leave with a bad taste in their mouth.
"As Emily Post says, 'The dining experience is less about digestion and more about conversation.'”
Trabert will share his wisdom on "The Art of the Table" Tuesday at Houston Design Center as guest speaker at the seventh annual Deck the Tables event. He dishes not only on proper table settings but also on correct table manners.
We took the opportunity to ask Trabert a few pressing etiquette questions.
CultureMap: What is the rule on cellphones at the table?
Justin Trabert: Obviously, the answer is no cellphones at the table. Dinner is more about the conversation with guests. Someone who pulls out his cellphone is saying that the company is boring or the guests aren't worthy of his time.
But in our time, things are changing. The younger generation might not even understand why cellphones aren't allowed at the table. At some point, this will probably be revisited. But if you must take a phone call, step away from the table, even move to a nearby room.
CM: Where does the napkin go when you leave the table?
JT: When exiting the table, there are two rules. Guests can either place their napkin in the seat of the chair or to the left of the plate. Don't refold it but gather it at the center.
CM: Is there an easy way for diners, particularly when seated at crowded tables, to remember which is their bread plate and which are their drinking glasses?
JT: Bread plates are to the left and glasses to the right. I tell my clients it's easy to remember if you put your index finger to your thumb on each hand. The result is something that resembles a B (for bread) on the left hand and a D (for drinks) on the right.
CM: Can you remind our readers of the salt and pepper rule.
JT: Salt and pepper always travel together. Even if someone asks for just the salt, the pepper should also be passed. And when passing, you set the shakers on the table. Never hand the shakers to someone.
CM: When should we pull out the silver flatware and serving pieces?
JT: We expect people to have fun with our silver and use it everyday. For those who like to save their silver, it's like having a Chanel bag that you keep in the closet because you don't want it scratched. Every scratch on a piece of silver is a memory. Memories are created when people enjoy themselves and those memories are embedded in the silver.
CM: Silver in the dishwasher or wash by hand?
JT: Put it in the dishwasher but I have a caveat. Use grandmother's old cleaning powder — Cascade. Do not use dishwasher soap gels or liquids.
CM: What is the perfect hostess gift (a loaded question for certain)?
JT: A silver gift from Christofle, of course.