Our Guide to Setting a (One)Table

We get it, planning a dinner, especially your first one, can seem daunting. But it’s an amazing opportunity to explore the Jewish value of Hiddur Mitzvah, or “elevating our actions,” and ending the week with beauty and intention. Six-time OneTable Host Hadassah “Hadsy” Brook provides insight on creating a beautiful table and ambiance on a budget and minimal time.

“I believe your personality expressed through a little imagination within your table can create a tone for the entire evening. Atmosphere is what transforms the perfunctory act of eating dinner into the experience of Shabbat,” she explains.

Here’s Hadsy’s guide to elevating your Friday night by using  minimal resources and clever touches.

1. Consider what needs to be on the table before decorating it

Will this meal be sit-down or buffet style? How many people are you trying to feed? Can the table be left bare or do you feel you need to lay a covering over it?

2. Anything can be used to cover a table

If you don’t have a tablecloth, try using scarves or a sheet. For partial covering, you can easily fashion a “table runner” of sorts by arranging paper napkins of your liking down the center of the table.

3. Follow the formal guidelines of a table layout

When the cutlery, glasses and napkins are all in their natural place, you create a subconscious baseline of comfort for your diners.  Helpful Hint: Place napkins either on the center of the plate(s) or directly behind them to make it easy for a guest to access their napkin without moving their place setting.

4. Place items in logical order

If serving buffet style, all dinnerware, cutlery, glasses and napkins should be grouped together in a place that doesn’t make it awkward to follow down the line towards food. It’s helpful to group together dishes  based on “type”; i.e. salads, cold foods, hot foods.

5. Make use of disposables

Personally, I don’t own enough dinnerware to be able to feed more than a few people at a time, so I always make use of disposables. I like to allot a slightly higher portion of my budget towards getting the “fancier plastics.” There are many eco-friendly bamboo disposables available on Amazon. One affordable way to create a “look” is to make use of color with items like paper napkins that are available in a variety of textures, prints and hues.

6. Decor is key

Rather than using one standout centerpiece, I prefer the concept of a “parade.” Decorate the center length of your table with a larger number of smaller pieces using anything that’s visually engaging! Absolutely make use of flowers, leaves, sticks, and grasses and don’t be afraid to cut things very short to achieve a comfortable height. Whenever I finish using a glass jar or bottle with an interesting shape, I wash it out and peel off the label. Every single One Table meal I’ve hosted has had guests excitedly marveling at how well the Patron bottle holds more than just tequila.

Make sure there’s room on your table for Sangria À La Hadsy

Ingredients and Supplies

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 bottle rum
  • 1 bunch basil
  • 1 bunch mint
  • 1 pear
  • 1 stone fruit (peach/plum/nectarine/etc.)
  • 2 lemons
  • 1-2 cups blueberries or grapes
  • 1 carton red grapefruit juice (extra points for freshly squeezed)


  1. Boil 2 cups of water and mix with 1 cup sugar to dissolve. Presto, you have just created cheater’s simple syrup!
  2. Slice the pear, stone fruit and lemons. Add sliced fruit into the container with the berries or grapes.
  3. Roughly tear the herbs and add them too.
  4. Pour in the simple syrup, wine, rum and juice. Stir with a long spoon or spatula until everything is well combined. Seal and leave in the refrigerator before serving.

*I suggest making the sangria at least one day before you want to drink it, though I prefer 2-3.

Inspired? Click here to create a dinner or apply to become a host.

Created by Jess Spivack, OneTable’s Community Specialist. She loves pizza, adventure, reading, and of course – peanut butter. You can reach her at jess@onetable.org

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