According to “Etiquette Scholar,” the texture of a tablecloth should correspond with two criteria: the finish of the tableware and the dining occasion. The finish of tableware refers to the kind of utensils and dishes used. If the utensils are silverware and the dishes consist of crystal, silver, porcelain or other fine goods, then a plastic tablecloth is not appropriate. However, if the utensils are plastic and the dishes used are ceramic, paper, foam or other disposable material, then a plastic tablecloth is appropriate.
Tablecloths serve aesthetic and practical purposes. They complement the elements of the table setting and coordinate colors in a room. At the same time, tablecloths insulate the table, lower noise level in a room and provide more elbow room than do place mats. Tablecloths are frequently used at wedding receptions and other formal events. Although linen tablecloths are most commonly used for such occasions, sometimes wedding planners opt for plastic tablecloths. The appropriateness of plastic tablecloths depends on the circumstance.
Finish of Tableware
In formal dining settings, linen tablecloths are proper. In informal dining settings, plastic tablecloths are fine. Typically, weddings are considered formal occasions. However, there are instances in which a formal wedding ceremony may be followed by an informal reception or dining occasion. For example, if you are serving ribs or off-the-bone food, then plastic tablecloths are fine. If, however, you are serving salmon or filet mignon, plastic tablecloths are not suited for the occasion.
Plastic tablecloths are often preferred for outdoor dining occasions, since they are more practical and suitable to handle changing weather conditions, such as wind or rain. Also, plastic tablecloths are usually disposable or machine washable, which is more practical for outdoor eating, which is likely to be messy.
Other Tablecloth Etiquette
Once you choose plastic tablecloths, there are other factors to consider. Specifically, it is important to choose color, shape and length appropriate to the occasion. Colors should correspond with the tableware and the overall color scheme of the room. This differs from formal dining settings, in which table linens are normally restricted to white, ivory and ecru. The shape of the tablecloth should correspond with the shape of the table (round, oval, square and rectangle). The length of the tablecloth refers to the overhang. For informal dining settings, plastic tablecloths should extend approximately 10 inches past the table. The only tablecloths that should extend to the floor are the ones used at buffet tables, where no guests are seated.
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