…dealing with the questions, to hide a beautiful¬† table from the diners’ view¬† or to cover a table for more practical reasons…


If I work a private party I ask the host “How do you want your tables set, what type of linen?” before getting started.

The setting of the dinner table and what linen to use for the setting is ultimately left up to a restaurant’s owner or the bill paying host.

I learned such at a private nearly thirty years ago. During the setting up for a party at a banker’s home in Hamburg-Blankenese(1), the host stunned me with his question. “Herr Ober (waiter) tell me! Do you plan to hang bed sheets all over my painting and art collection?” Surprised, I answered with a “No Sir! I wouldn’t dare to!”
“Herr Ober, so? Tell me why do you hide the spectacular one of a kind magnificence of my fifteenth century rose- and blackwood table?” He went on and pointed at his sixteenth century mahogany here and the eighteenth century carved teak table over there, which were also covered up! “You did the same with the seventeenth century African stink- and yellow-wood table as well the south American gold and silver thread inlaid ironwood table.” Under the tablecloths one could barely see the furniture’s ornate legs.
“Why do you hide these masterpieces of craftsmanship under these your white drop cloths?” He asked me. I had to search for words. I like to use table cloths to dress up the dinner table. I thought that’s the custom. And I had spent more than two hours setting the tables which looked perfect to me. What came out of my mouth was a stumbled: “Sir, I was thinking to protect your tabletops from stains and scratches.” I heard the unsure sound in my voice so I added to it: “Sir! You want the table cloths taken off? If so? I take em off!”
The host’s attention was directed away from me. He started to chase an innocent insect which had come in through an open window. A visiting bee was attending to some of the many flowers in pots and vases throughout the huge room overlooking the serenity of a most immaculately manicured garden-setting. A tranquil oasis just outside the city. The host did not appreciate the bee’s visit. His anger showed on his red face. Using a full size world atlas, he attempted to smash the little insect. This big fellow, the grand-grand-grand son of a prominent Hanseatic trader, was loosing it. Like a child he ran in circles after the small humming honey collector. His gestures to ridden his house of an invader, a small harmless bee, were funny to me. His wham, bang, whack of the heavy book against expensive wooden paneling was ludicrous. He was fast for his size. Attempting to stop and turn while on a Persian carpet, the floor cover under his feet slowly slid over the wooden floor. It just happened and seemed to be in slow motion.
I just stood there, my mouth open, and watched the absolutely helpless host falling. When he got up, beet red in his face, I knew he was ready to load a cannon just so he could splatter the little bee into eternity. Yet the insect found the open window. I watched the bee ignorant of the situation, come once more back into the room to fly humming a few laps around the host’s head before taking off for good. I found it very humorous.

Still furious, the host turned to me. He frowned seeing that I had taken sides and not his side in his battle and defeat against a bee. He did not like the smile which had found a prominent display spot around my mouth. I wanted to laugh out loud. But I forced my mouth shut. Looking out the window, I directed my mind away from confrontation and simply concentrated my thoughts at my toes in the shoes. I moved each toe up and down and by the time I got to the second foot my face was blank.
His, “Herr Ober . . . how much longer…till you to remove your white cloths from my tables?” brought me back into action. I did not argue. I removed all table cloths and redid all the table settings. He returned half an hour later, watched me sweating and rushing and now somewhat apologetic said, “Herr Ober, that’s a lot better. Naturally you do understand the reason why I invite guests to my home. Here I expose them to thousand years of art collected by my own family. I wish none of the splendor to be hidden from their eyes!”
He did have a point and I was glad I did not argue with him. At the end of the party he gave me a thin envelope with a check for a nice amount as a tip and I was happy. I did not bother to point out to him that four of his tables showed discoloration from the drippings of the red white and blue candles. I did not mention the Port wine which had seeped in between tiny cracks of the intricate rosewood inlay, I actually thought this dark-red stain was an enrichment of the tabletop display. And I certainly did not say a word about the burn marks at two tables, from cigars and cigarettes. I thanked the host and left him with his antiquities. Nowadays if I work a private party I ask the host “How do you want your tables set, what type of linen?” before getting started.

1. Hamburg-Blankenese, posh suburb to the west of the city on the Elbe river’s north shore.

by helmut schonwalder