Note: To help you run a smooth contest, I’m attaching a handy PDF guide/score sheet below.
All this talk about what makes a good tablescape got me thinking: how do we judge tablescapes? Obviously, tablescaping is a very subjective thing, but most people can definitely tell between a good table and a very bad one. Since I’ve run tablescaping contests in the past, I decided to try and enumerate the details that make up a good table setting—whether for a competition or simply for personal use.
- Symmetry and asymmetry (worth 20/100): While keeping your tablescape symmetrical is fairly straightforward, creating an artfully asymmetrical table setting walks a fine line that people too often cross. In creating an asymmetrical tablescape, I judge based on the flow of the table. Does it look balanced despite the asymmetry? Or does it look like a bunch of details thrown together? A finished tablescape looks polished, professional, and harmonious—picking the right elements and paying attention to sizing goes a long way in keeping your tablescape balanced.
- When creating a harmonious tablescape, pay attention to the little details like metal finishes and textures. Tablescapes should try and stick to one finish and complementing textures to create an overall polished appearance.
- Good composition (worth 25/100): As an addendum to the point above, focusing on the composition of your tablescape is very important to the world of competitive tablescaping. Going above and beyond what’s mentioned previously, details like color schemes, proportion, spacing, lighting, and focal points are things to consider when attempting to create a beautiful tablescape.
- Centerpiece (worth 5/100): A good centerpiece must be created to fit the occasion at hand. Are you designing a formal table for 20? Then a small sprig of wildflowers probably isn’t for you. Likewise, an intimate dinner for 4 would look odd paired with a hundred rose bouquet. Both are equally gorgeous, but there’s a time and place for everything!
- Outside of a competition setting, I’d also pay close attention to sizing and make sure to create a centerpiece that won’t impair anyone’s vision or interrupt the flow of conversation. As I explained previously, tablescaping is first and foremost utilitarian: good user experience—in this case, your guests’—is paramount to creating a fabulous tablescape.
- Presentation and ease of use (worth 15/100): Related to the point above, and especially when tablescaping for personal pleasure, I’d judge a table by how easy it is to use. Having 5 different glasses for each place setting that get in the way of me trying to enjoy my meal is a huge no no in my book. Similarly, including utensils that needn’t be on the table—for example, a fish knife when you aren’t serving fish—is a bad idea all around. Basically, don’t make your tablescape needlessly complicated and your guests will thank you.
- In a similar vein, making sure your tablescape has the appropriate utensils is also equally as important. Make sure you coordinate your place settings with your menu to avoid the inevitable awkwardness when you forget to place soup spoons for your soup course.
- Interpretation of the theme (worth 15/100): Tablescaping contests usually come with predetermined themes. Aside from the points above (which are general considerations to keep in mind when decorating a table), sticking to the theme you sign up for accounts for a large percentage of points. For everyday tablescaping, themes can form around a random detail you want to highlight on your table, or the holiday you’re creating a tablescape for. Keep in mind, however, that going overboard on your themed items can cross the territory into too kitschy. Unless this is the look that you’re purposefully going for, I’d advise against it.
- Vision (worth 10/100): In a contest, I like seeing tablescapes that tell a story. I’m judging based on your imagination, creativity, and ability to flesh out the table’s story, all within the bounds of your chosen theme.
- Originality (worth 10/100): This one is a no brainer. Having an original table, especially one that uses different elements in creative ways, will net you way more points with the judges.
So there you have it! Just rate each item and add the total up to get the total score out of 100! I hope this list helps you out, whether or not you’re planning to run your own tablescaping contest. I included everything I could think of, but are there any points you think I’ve missed and should include? Let me know in the comments below!