Setting the Table May Help You Feel More Like a Human Being Right Now

No, really—candles and everything.

Even Now, You Should Set the Table
Photo: Johner Images / Getty Images

When my husband and I moved into our 1880 Victorian farmhouse on the Hudson River—I’ll pause here while you hate and curse me—one of our first decisions was the location of the dining room. There were two spaces on the first floor that could be either the living room or the dining room. One had a treehouse sort of vibe with a panoramic view of the river, and the other had a fireplace. Considering the importance of dining in our lives we chose, not surprisingly, the fireplace room as the dining room. There’s a reason I’m telling you this.

The next decision came to us both almost simultaneously. We both, rather hesitantly, broached the idea of never using electric lights in that room. We love candles, we love hours spent at the table, and we love each other. The room is magnificent when lit by candles and oil lamps (of which we have way too many) so this seemed a no-brainer.

My mother was a great hostess who taught me the importance of “hosting” family. Why have china and silver and crystal and only use them for guests? I believe that my little family of two deserves the best I can give and I love to cook, so every night, we set the table. Good flatware, good plates, good glasses, cloth napkins, napkin rings, knife rests—the whole nine yards. And I cook a real meal every night.

Are there moments when that’s not the easiest standard to maintain? You betcha. Some nights, after a long day and (when we were still leaving the house) an almost two-hour commute, does take out seem the way to go? I'm tempted to say yes, but here’s the thing: it never is. This nightly ritual—which expands even more on the weekends—forces us to stop. I don’t want to get all “mindful” on you, but we are forced to be in that room together, eating and talking. And as you probably already suspected, there is no place in our table settings for cell phones and the TV is in the other room.

If you do a little bit of planning, some of the components of the week's meals that take the longest can be readied in advance. Most weekends I make a really big batch of rice. It can easily sit in the fridge for four or five days. If I’m roasting a chicken on the weekend, I always make a quick stock from the wings so I have it to use throughout the week along with some cooked chicken. I’m not suggesting you spend your entire weekend cooking and planning for the week, but rather that with a little bit of planning, you can make a real meal any night, no matter how the day has gone.

I know not many people are quite as far on the nerd scale as I am. But here’s the part where I proselytize that you should treat your family like you treat company. For more than 40 years (42 years today, to be precise), my husband and I have tried to eat every dinner together in whatever dining room we had at that time, and we spend that time talking to each other. I’m happy to say we have never run out of things to talk about. After this long, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s working. Try it. Those you love will appreciate it and I promise it will light up your life.

Read more from David McCann at

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