October 17, 2018

Easy tips for stylish Passover place settings

Setting the Passover table can be overwhelming. Does the seder plate have all the right elements? Where is the afikomen? Did we put out Elijah’s cup? 

So when you reach the point of arranging the individual place settings, you want things to be quick and easy, without a lot of fuss. With these tips, you’ll be able to make place settings that are unique and creative — and as fabulous as the food and company.

Mix and match.

Don’t worry about not having a complete set of matching dishes for all your guests. Do you really want to look like a restaurant? Mix and match the dishes you do have for an effortless look. Even if you do have a few sets of matching dishes, go ahead and mix them up anyway.

The key to successful mixing and matching is balance. If you have a lot of clashing patterns, balance them with some solids. You can also achieve balance by incorporating plain, neutral napkins.

And a few words about white dishes. Plain, white plates are a good staple to have at your disposal, especially for dinner parties. They sell them in stacks at home stores for just this purpose. But even when you’re using these pristine plates, feel free to mix them up with other colors and patterns you might have.

Everything old is new.

What if you have a bunch of old dishes from Bubbe? Lucky you —vintage dishes are so popular right now. The more “granny” they are, the better. Case in point: transferware. These old-fashioned dishes were once relegated to cardboard boxes in the storage locker. Now there are collector’s clubs, and they’re even used as artwork in trendy hotels. Again, mix and match. Mixing older china with more contemporary pieces you have in the cupboard is positively chic.

Even plates from the 1970s and ’80s that were once considered dated are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. So if you’ve got some of these oldies but goodies hiding in your cabinets, take them out and show them off. Guests will think you’re such a hipster.

Keep it simple.

Home magazines and etiquette guides offer a dizzying amount of advice on the correct pieces to include in your place settings. There are so many different forks and spoons, and precise places to put them. Then there are all the glasses for different purposes. My advice: Keep it simple; there are enough items on the seder table as it is. Limit your place settings to just the basics you’ll need for the meal at hand. 

Also, avoid extraneous accessories like chargers. Sure, they look elegant under your dishes, but it’s just another element you don’t need. I love chargers, don’t get me wrong. I have them in both gold and pewter, and I use them all the time. The problem is they add at least an inch on each side of your dinner plate, taking up precious table room. It’s another item you have to stock up on, and another item you have to clean. If you’re having a large group for the seder, they are just too much to worry about.

Try a table runner instead of a tablecloth.

A tablecloth adds both a formal and festive touch to any occasion, but let’s get real — they are a total pain. If you’ve ever ironed a tablecloth, you know what I’m talking about. Instead of a tablecloth, place a table runner along the center of the table. It doesn’t have to be made of anything fancy, or even fabric. Be creative. I’ve used long sheets of butcher paper, decorative wrapping paper, and black-adhesive contact paper made to look like a chalkboard.

Another way to use table runners is to place them widthwise, between guests sitting across from one another, rather than lengthwise. That way, the runners also act as placemats. And if you insist on fabric runners, a great resource for them is the dollar store, where they’re, um, $1.

Incorporate place cards.

I know I’m complicating things a bit by recommending place cards to indicate where everyone sits, but believe me, they make things easier in the end. There’s always that awkward moment when guests arrive at the table and are not sure where to sit, and then they ask you. Suddenly, you are the U.N. ambassador, having to negotiate who likes whom and deciding whether allies need to be together or separated. If you settle all this in advance with place cards, you can skip that awkwardness and get right to the seder service. 

Your place cards can be as simple as names written on folded sheets of paper. They can be tags tied to ribbon around napkins. Personalize each guest’s haggadah and make that the place card. Or write names on pieces of matzah with icing for a unique and edible place card.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at