The Lost Art of Setting a Fancy Table

Life feels so casual now. Athleisure wear dominates our clothing choices, kids call adults by their first names (I loathe this), restaurants are focusing on trendy spaces, cool vibes, and relaxed dining. Families are forgoing formal living spaces for casual ones, transforming these rooms into home offices, TV rooms or playrooms for kids. Formal dining rooms are now considered dinosaurs when it comes to new home design. Formal dining is not only considered old fashioned, but it’s also out of style. That makes me so sad.

As modern and progressing with the times I’d like to think I am, I’m a Southern belle at heart raised in a small town. Like — tiny town, one flashing light, no chain restaurants, sercy gifts and Sip and Sees — Southern town. Where Sunday suppers celebrated everything from our Lord Jesus to family birthdays and anniversaries to good grades and graduation.  Where tablecloths, linen napkins, fine china, sterling silver, crystal stemware, and floral centerpieces adorned these grand tables. My mother absolutely loved setting the table for special occasions. She felt a beautifully set table was the equivalent to an invitation for guests when they walked in the room, that a well-appointed table should make you feel loved and important because of the extra effort put forth. At a young age, my mother insisted I help her set the table and I used to make such a fuss. Eventually, I learned to adore this chore too, seeing it as the expression of love for my guests it truly is.

A fun table set by my mom for a birthday brunch!

What happened to eating meals together at the dining table?

I’m sad when I hear families aren’t sitting around the table for dinner anymore. The dining culture is very different than it was decades ago when I was growing up. We’ve progressed where many meals are eaten separately because of parents’ work schedules, school, and various activities. During the week, meals are eaten while watching TV and even on the weekends there tends to be so much dining on the go. Not many people live in tiny towns with a single flashing light these days because these towns now have Chick-fil-A and Uber Eats. Let me assure you, our family is right in the mix because Dad travels for work and kiddo has activities three nights a week. And don’t tell my mother, but paper plates are also in my repertoire. Although, I still properly set the table with them, paper napkins, plastic ware, and cups. Regardless if I’m using fine china or Chinet, when we’re all home for dinner during the week, and striving for twice on the weekend, I set the table. Setting the table for meals, to me, means I am preparing for us to connect and strengthen our relationships. New dreams and ideas are discovered, jokes told, manners learned (excluding the occasional burp contest), palettes expanded, values developed and best of all, love shared.

Chinet is just fine, but I’ll always prefer fine china.

Still, I love when I can set the table with our nicest dinnerware. Heck, drinking cocktails out of your fancy glass tastes better than drinking it from your insulated cup. Even just eating a bag salad out of a nice crystal bowl and pulling out a fancy fork makes it taste better! The presentation of food and drink makes a difference because we first taste with our eyes which then opens our hearts. I remember as a child when my brother and I would earn straight As and mom would honor us by setting a fancy table in our dining room every nine weeks and let us choose our celebration dinner. And guess what? Many times it was pizza, hot dogs or toasted marshmallow and peanut butter sandwiches, but it was still served on her fine china, milk in the crystal glass with linen napkins placed in our lap. It wasn’t about what was served on the plate as much as it was about honoring the occasion, honoring us. Because she did this for our family so frequently and with such ease, it has never been an ordeal for me to practice the same ceremony. It’s just as easy to clean up as everyday dishes (yes, it all goes in the dishwasher) and it’s one of the traditions we continue in our family that brings me tremendous joy.

crystal salad bowl
Christmas table
Table set2

Am I the only one carrying on formal dining traditions in their house? The art of setting a pretty table is a way of slowing down and being intentional. It doesn’t matter if you’re serving Japanese Wagyu steak or frozen Steak-Umms because the set table creates a tone of the moment. And I’ve always found these moments around a formal dining table, beautifully designed with purpose, linger long after the meal is finished because guests feel appreciated. They understand the message you’ve created without you having to say it: “Welcome to our table. We’re glad you are here. Stay awhile.”

Lingering in the moment…
Meredith Loudenback
Meredith Fitts Loudenback is originally from South Carolina and moved to Jacksonville after graduating from Clemson University in 1994. Meredith and her husband enjoyed living in London and Boston for several years before relocating back to Jacksonville in 2010. Meredith has worked in medical sales and, most recently, interior design. She has been married for 24 years, has a 14-year-old son. Meredith is passionate about travel, books, aesthetics, and design, and in her free time, she loves having active family adventures and small, intimate dinners with her treasured circle of friends.


  1. After going on a cruise and dining together every evening (myself, husband and 3 kids) I realized how nice it was to sit at a nice table and interact.The kids acted differently being in a nice setting as well, and they enjoyed the “fancy” dinners. When we got home I ordered a white table cloth and some stemmed water glasses, we try to do a “fancy” dinner at least once a week and everyone looks forward to it. I had kind of overlooked how much I loved these things when I was a kid, the lace tablecloth meant it was someone’s birthday, or the special dishes for the holidays. I hope my kids will now also have memories of sitting around the table enjoying each other’s company even if it’s only once a week.

  2. Oh Laura! I love this!!! I agree, manners tend to be a little better when we’re all seated at a fancy table. And, it is a fun experience!

  3. This was a cool article. I think that sitting at a table is for sure a lost “art” but the fine china & other fancy stuff is definitely not my thing!


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