Tips to set up the perfect table

Setting up the perfect table requires creativity, sophistication and savoir- faire.

I interview my friend Iliyana Popova whom I know from many years as we studied together at the University in Monaco. She is now the head of project management at Boutsen Design, experts in fine art decoration for yachts, jets and luxury villas.

Iliyana will share with us her tips and savoir-faire in table etiquette onboard yachts.

Her international experience working in luxury hotel chains, yachting and aviation, combined with her strong academic background makes her an exceptional professional in her field.

She holds a management degree in Hospitality from the Swiss college ‘César Ritz’, and a Bachelor degree at Endicott College, United States. Moreover, she also has a Master’s Degree in Luxury Goods and Services from the International University of Monaco.

Left: Daniela Boutsen, founder of Boutsen Design. On the right: Iliyana Popova

Seducing the senses

In order to have an unforgettable meal experience you need to appeal to all the five senses:

  • Sight: whenever you see a nice set up table, this is your first impression, this is how you put a smile on people faces before they even start eating!
  • Hearing: this can be done by using music to set the mood for the meal.
  • Touch: this can be achieved by using texture on the materials.
  • Smell: this can be approached by using scents, candles, or even accentuating the smell of the bread in the oven, or the smell of the BBQ to appeal the senses.
  • And of course, Taste which the chef on board will do everything he can to delight the guests!

The theme

In order to set the perfect table, we first need to decide on the theme. The theme will consequently, influence the colors and the style.

The essentials

The table cloth – Unlike setting a table in a house or an event venue, on board yachts it is used less frequently . It is mainly used for more formal set ups, it is less practical and often covers the outstanding table features.

Pro tip: We tend to recommend the 50% linen & 50% cotton quality as it still gives a nice linen look and soft cotton touch while easier to iron as compared to 100% linen quality.

The Plates – There are usually at least 2 chinaware sets on board, one is casual and a second more formal. The casual set could be more colorful, matching the colors of the interior and the exterior, often in line with the colors of the deco cushions. We tend to suggest chinaware collections with a large range of items (ex: various serving dishes in different sizes), easily stack-able and light in weigh. It could be practical to use a set which offers 2 types of charger plates, a more sophisticated presentation plate for a formal setting, allowing to make a better use of the dinnerware in respect of the storage limitations.

It is very important to consider the preferred cuisine of the clients in order to propose the most suited dining set, composing of the required elements, especially for an Asian cuisine.

Pro tip: Other factors to be taken into account are if the plates should be dishwasher safe (avoiding gold and platinum encrusted decors), suitable for a microwave use as well as produced by manufacturers that guarantee the continuity of their production, allowing for an easy replacement even in few years’ time.

Placemats – are widely used for both indoor and outdoor table settings, available in various materials, shapes, colors and countless possibilities for customization, creating the perfect matching element to the chinaware and the theme of the table set up. Leather placemats are particularly preferred for an outdoor setting, available also as double-faced in 2 different colors.

The right cutlery – It is important to be selected in accordance to the chinaware in terms of style and form. A choice is to be made between a stainless-steel option vs silver plated model. Silver plated cutlery has a brighter and shiny finish of the silver as compared to the stainless steel.

Pro tip: Stainless steel requires less maintenance and is more resistant to the humidity onboard.

Napkins – Allow for creativity in terms of colors, the napkin fold and the placement on the table. An important element for any table setting, adding a touch of sophistication when used with a napkin ring.

Napkin on top of the plate? Or on the left? – The placement of the napkins depends on the available table space, the type of napkin fold and if the chinaware has a design/ logo which should be revealed, thus keeping the napkin to the side.

A trendy way to fold napkins is to fold by using a nice napkin jewel (ex: a starfish, coral) which adds a touch of elegance to the table setting while still keeping it casual and inviting.

Glassware – Solid, wind-safe glasses are preferred for outdoor use, often in a color glass, matching with the dining set or with the interiors. Another popular opinion for the exterior are the synthetic crystal (acrylic) glasses, available in a variety of styles and colors. These are great for boats because they don’t break, so in case one falls on the teak it won’t hurt anyone.

Culinary preferences

It is essential to be able to cater to the culinary preferences of the Owners and the charter guests. If for example they enjoy Asian cuisine, it is important to select a dining set which offers a good variety of suitable platters and bows (for rice, soup, soya sauce), Chinese spoons, chopsticks and chopstick rests, sake cups, Asian tea cups ant pots, etc.

Setting the mood

The lightning – Dim lighting ‘hospitality lighting’ is essential for creating a welcoming atmosphere. This could be also achieved by adding nice lanterns and photophores.

Candles – Long lasting non scented candles are preferred in various heights centrally placed on the dining table.

Center pieces of decoration are an important element to the table set up and the overall feel of the theme. Often fresh flowers are used along with decorative objects, photophores and candle holders as well as bowls filled with fruits for a more casual daytime setting. A nice bowl of floating candles could also serve as a center piece.

Name cards are used for a more formal settings and in particular when the host would like to decide on the seating arrangement prior to the arrival of their guests. The intent is to impact order (guests of the same gender do not sit next to each other) and make sure that distinguished guests are properly assigned seats.

Setting the table

Alignment: Making sure that everything is nicely aligned with the dining chairs and pleasing to the eye, paying particular attention to the correct placement of the cutlery and the glassware.

For the Salt & pepper it is suggest to place 2 to 3 sets of salt & pepper, within an easy reach, for a table setting of 8 to 12 guests.

Custom-made, the ultimate luxury

Yacht owners are often seeking uniqueness and authenticity when it comes to the design and decoration of their yacht, jet or home. They like to be involved in the creative process and share their vision and ideas of how they would like certain designs/ products to be developed.

As part of the team at Boutsen Design we have an in-house product designer who has created bespoke designs for various products, including chinaware, linens, carpets, etc.

Illy tells us, ‘I am currently working on a stunning new-built yacht project for which the client personally hand painted the logo (symbol) we will be replicating on one of the dining sets as well as on some of the linens and leather accessories’

The villa, yacht and jet

We tend to suggest different dining sets for the yacht, the jet and the residence of a client.

They should not only match with the interior in terms of style and colors but also create a different feel.

People tend to prefer contemporary sets for their jet, used often for business, while much more casual and colorful dinnerware for their yachts and vacation homes. Nautical themed dining sets, predominantly in blue tonality, are often used onboard a yacht while floral motives are sometimes preferred for a home in the countryside.


Being creative and enthusiastic about setting up a beautiful table for different occasions is the key.

Making a good use of the available crockery onboard is essential along with adding that extra touch by placing a nice center piece, candles and flowers, certainly contribute to creating a more pleasant dining experience and the overall enjoyment onboard.

How to choose your perfect table setting

You don’t know what you want, until you see it!

Boutsen Design has had the privilege to stage quite few impressive yachts during the Monaco Yacht Show and it has been very rewarding when the new Owners like our selection and decide to keep it onboard. It is often easier for them to visualize it better when they see everything carefully selected, nicely matching and properly placed at the various areas of their vessel. This experience is both exciting and agitating as we let them discover all the final touches added to their boat and see their reaction.


Basic table etiquette rules

Different cultures have different table etiquette. If you are a guest on board a yacht, it is important to learn about the cultural differences.

During dinner you want to be enjoying the beautiful setting and the interesting conversation, you want your dining companions to focus on you, not the awkward way you use your knife and fork.” That seems like a good goal more generally: Strive for excellence in table manners while remaining as inconspicuous as possible in the process.

Table manners

Different families have different table rules. Some while onboard a yacht during vacation can be more casual and relaxed and would allow to eat in a swim suit, however others will require to get dressed. For men, it is advised to always wear a shirt.

No hats/caps allowed if eating indoors dining room. The odd backwards baseball cap is not intended as a sign of disrespect and, assuming the wearer is not at the Four Seasons or a house of worship, you might even take it as an innocuous style preference rather than an impropriety. Of course, please continue to remove your own hat. There are surely like-minded diners who appreciate this.

Women, whose hats were understood to be decorative rather than functional, were exempt from this mandate.

If women want to apply lipstick after the meal, some suggest to excuse themselves and apply it at the ‘powder room’ however it is advised to re-apply it after the meal is over. Don’t reapply lipstick only to leave a print of it on your coffee cup, rather wait until the end of the meal.

About Boutsen Design, Monaco

The team at Boutsen Design is constantly on the lookout for the latest decoration trends and the newest collections, sourcing the right accessories and the best matching decorative elements, aiming at further enhancing the interior and the exterior of our yacht projects.

Daniela Boutsen perfected her craft in the demanding Business Aviation industry in the VVIP sector, decorating and equipping large private aircraft. Satisfied clients subsequently called on her for yachting and residential projects, which have evolved naturally with the company’s growth, experience and success.