You don’t need a fancy restaurant to have an elegant, candle-lit family meal – you can create the experience in your own dining room. Here’s how to transform a typical family dinner into a fancy, fun event that everyone will remember for years to come.
Tablecloth, cloth napkins, bread basket – when was the last time enjoyed a candle-lit dinner complete with these items?
Years ago, setting the table was a daily event. Today, many families only set something special at the holidays. That, or, they enjoy these things when out to eat at a fancy restaurant. With the world facing coronavirus, eating out isn’t as much of an option, but you can still set the stage at home. Rather than waiting for restaurants to open, create a restaurant feel at home.
I’ve shared other posts on the importance of making time for family meals. Creating a calm and inviting environment around food has benefits. It’s especially important for kids. The FMI Foundation started a family meals movement to remind families to spend time at the dinner table.
Don’t feel guilty if your cloth napkins are buried at the bottom of a dining room drawer. Finding time to sit down to a family dinner is difficult enough, without making it a fancy one. But, even small attempts can make a difference.
I was reminded of how removed from fancy I was a few last year, after my daughter earned her etiquette and manners badge in Girl Scouts. She couldn’t wait to show us what she was taught. She had so much fun setting the table and teaching us what she learned. (I had no idea that your cloth napkin should be hung on your chair if you excuse yourself from the table.)
Until I found this picture, I couldn’t recall what we ate, but I do have vivid memories of her table setting. It was beautiful, and she was so proud. It made that meal experience very memorable. So memorable, in fact, that I am writing about it years later.
It’s The Experience, Not The Food That Matters The Most
Mia’s place setting was completely elegant, and we used our best manners that day during dinner. It was a far cry from most nights in our house, when I cook quick, easy meals and we eat on the go.
The first thing to remember is that the meal is the least important part of this experience. Like I said above, I don’t even remember what we ate. I remember the experience and family bonding that occurred. I remember the conversation and the excitement in the kids eyes that we were doing something different. Keep the recipe simple, but spice up the surroundings.
How To Create A Restaurant Meal Setting At Home
I’m not suggesting you should get as fancy as Mia’s meal setting was. I just want to bring attention to idea of doing this and remind you of the importance of creating a calm environment back to your mind.
Step #1 – Dress The Part
You wouldn’t go to a restaurant in your pajamas, so don’t wear them to this meal either. Ask everyone to get ready for dinner. That means, wearing something nice, having hair styled and maybe even putting make-up on – if you wear it. The goal is to feel fancy during dinner, and make this meal together an experience. You might even want to wear high-heels.
Step #2 – The Place Settings
Think of the items that you already have on-hand to create a restaurant style dinner setting at home. Maybe it’s what you use at the holidays, or it’s the table cloth buried in your drawer. Some basic items to use are a tablecloth, cloth napkins and candles. A candelabra is the ultimate elegant setting, but most people don’t have one sitting around. Just place a candle in the center of the table, instead.
Step #3 – The Dinner Dishes
If possible, keep the plates and bowls that you typically eat off of in the cabinet, and use different dishes. If you have expensive China dishes, use those. I personally don’t have any fancy plates, but I do have two sets of dishes. Mia used our back-up set just for a different feel.
Set the dinner plates, bowls and silverware on the table ahead of time. That way, when everyone sits down, they feel the same way they feel when eating at a fancy restaurant. You can also set a water glass at each setting, and have a second glass for another beverage. For our dinner, the kids had sparkling water in a champagne glass, while the adults had wine.
Step #4 – Put Condiments on The Table
Remember the gravy ladle you whip out at the holidays? Now is the time to use it! If your meal includes gravy, put it in a fancy dish and allow it to be passed around the table just like the food is. In fact, put all of the condiments in dishes or bowls. That includes salt, pepper, salad dressing, sauces, chutneys and other items that get added to foods.
Step #5 – Consider Eating Family Style
Once the food is cooked, put it on large serving dishes and platters, then set those on the table. Pass the food around the table family style, letting each person serve themselves. If your table isn’t big enough for platters of food, allow one host to plate the meal and serve each person once they are seated at the table. Both options create a memorable, restaurant-style family dinner experience.
Step #6 – Create Great Conversation
The family dinner discussion is by-far the most important aspect of this experience. Forget about any fighting or negative feeling you have for this time, and focus on only positive conversation. Research shows that shared family meals, that include positive and supportive conversation, leave kids and teenagers feeling safe and cared for. I can’t think of anything more important than that.
Step #7 – Family Clean-Up
There’s one part of this experience that is way different than what you get at a restaurant – you have to clean up for yourself. This is the downside to creating this environment. Putting condiments in separate dishes and using more than one glass means more dishes to clean up. That’s my main reason for not creating this experience more often.
To ease the burden on any one family member, clean-up together. One person can clear the table while another person puts the left-over food away. Someone else can begin washing the dishes, while another family member dries and puts them away.
Another option is to put away the left-overs and leave the clean-up for later. You can turn your family dinner experience into an entire family fun night by playing a game together or watching a movie. Whatever option you choose, the entire family is sure to remember this night for years to come.
If you don’t have time to do this now, don’t worry. Keep this idea on your to-do list. It takes less time than you think, and it makes a great memory.
Do you have another idea for how to create memorable family meal experiences? Share it in the comments below.