Tag Archives: contemporary

Formal Dinner Settings

Understanding formal dining settings can be important to the prop master who strives for historical and cultural accuracy. If a play, film or television show calls for characters to dine in a formalized setting, the amount of plates, utensils and glasses involved are numerous and often not laid out in the script. Following the conventions of formal dining settings help establish the time and place and flesh out the characters (not to mention giving the actors something to do in the scene). Many audience members will recognize when proper formal dining procedures are not followed.

Below is an image of a “typical” formal dining setting. By “typical”, I mean a contemporary style used in Western/Anglo-Saxon cultural settings. It can of course vary depending on the food being served and the level of formality, as well as by cultural and regional specifics. Nonetheless, the basic style presented in the picture below is relatively standard from the Edwardian period (1901-1910) to the present.

Formal dinner setting
Formal dinner setting.

Careful research is always needed for recreating any sort of historical dinner settings. Before 1900, table settings differed much more between the countries of Western Europe, though formalized dinner settings in general have been practiced as far back as medieval times.

Some Thoughts on Brand-Name Props

Let’s imagine you were dressing the set in a realistic manner for a contemporary home. It would be ridiculous to do so without any brand name products. If you step into any random house of the type your characters live in, you will find yourself swimming in a sea of logos and packaging of distinctive colors and shapes. Even something as innocuous as a bookcase can be recognized as IKEA simply by its appearance.

The fact is, to deliberately omit brand names from a contemporary set is not only difficult and time-consuming, it is not realistic. If you carefully construct “look-alike” logos and names, you will merely draw attention to the props. The same holds true if you fill your set with generic brands (such as “Beer” brand beer) – not to mention the fact that a household with all generic products is actually an anomaly and the very opposite of generic.

As you do your research, try to take notice to all the brands around you. Also think about how ingrained some brands are in the fabric of our culture. If a character is drinking a Coca-Cola, you think he is thirsty. If he is drinking an invented brand of cola, you might suddenly wonder if his choice of brand has some significance. It’s distracting.