7 Dinnerware Tips for the Modern Southern Hostess

The first step to creating your perfect tablescape.

dinner table with formal place settings
Photo: Getty Images

Who makes a better hostess than a Southern woman? Trick question! Y'all know the answer is no one. They always make you feel right at home, keep your favorite drink stocked, and put together the most beautiful tablescapes. Just as sugar is a key ingredient of sweet tea, dishes are essential to entertaining. And with a fresh plate for every course, you need a lot of them. We tapped tablescape pros for their best tips on how to mix, match, and stack dinnerware to help make your next dinner party a success.

Mix it Up

The key to a beautiful tablescape has nothing to do with consistency, according to Lyndsey Zorich, founder of The Avenue in Houston, Texas. Instead, she explains, "Too much sameness feels stiff and formal anyway, and the goal is to make guests feel comfortable and create a sense of wonder when they gaze down the table."

Emily Painter, founder of Freshly Set and Emily Painter Interiors in Palm Beach, Florida, agrees. "It gives a really fresh, collected feeling."

Embrace Your Everyday Dinnerware

Whether you're a minimalist or lacking storage for fancy plates, you can still build out beautiful tablescapes with your usual white dishes. As content creator Molly Boyd in Bradenton, Florida, says, "White plates allow you the flexibility to layer with a fun salad plate or just keep things simple and let other details shine."

Go Vintage

"When it comes to dishes, one person's trash is another's treasure," Boyd explains. "I love looking at antique and thrift stores for unique pieces you won't find elsewhere." Bonus: These one-of-a-kind finds are often cheaper and also make for great conversation starters.

Play with Scale

To Maggie Bratton Dillon, founder of Maggie Dillion Interiors in Raleigh, North Carolina, scale is both an art and a science. "Try to balance out the scale of each item. If you're using multi-colored, patterned salad plates, solid linen napkins on top would complement those well," she explains. "That said, don't be afraid to try combinations that might scare you! You can usually get away with more than you think."

Bring Out the China, Just Because

Why let your china collect dust in a cabinet or basement 99% of the time? "I find myself using it on a random Wednesday more and more," says Boyd. "Celebrate that every day is a gift and use your good stuff!"

Consider the Context

If you don't know where to begin, take a page from Dillon's book: "I like to consider all aspects of the occasion, season, and color scheme at once when determining what dinnerware to select. Once I know what patterns we'll be incorporating through the plates and chargers, I can pull the rest together."

Have Fun

"Don't get tablescaper's block by the desire to have a perfectly set scene," advises Zorich. Instead, give yourself permission to break the rules.

"My kids love setting the table with me, and watching them at work definitely reinforced the magic of not following any hard and fast rules for the best final outcome," she continues.

Keep it Practical

Not every occasion calls for china. "Some of my favorite dinnerware items are the ones that you can bring outdoors without fear of them breaking," Boyd says. "Enamelware and melamine are two materials that are the perfect solution to outdoor dining, or if you just want to be a little more casual indoors." (They're also ideal for creating a child-friendly scene.)

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