By CATHI AYCOCK

I once prepared homemade chocolate covered cherries wrapped in beautiful sparkly cellophane and placed them at each place setting as a little gift for a Valentine’s Day dinner party.

While I ran upstairs to change for dinner, my sneaky pup jumped on the table, ripped the cellophane off the treats and ate almost a dozen chocolate cherries. After depositing the dog in the garage, (no, she didn’t even get sick)  I did the quickest table redo in history and placed votives strategically over the tell-tale chocolate paw prints on my tablecloth.

Today, I do as much prep as possible before the event. Namely, I set the table and put out all the platters and serving pieces (with sticky notes attached labeling what food goes in what bowl or platter) and arrange the flowers and candles a day or two before. I leave any food treats on the buffet and banish all pets to the outer sanctions. But in a pinch, I can set a table for 12 in under ten minutes flat.

Thankfully, we no longer have forks for days (fish fork, oyster fork, cheese fork and more) and our table setting has become much more casual. Even casual entertaining has a few rules however. We give you the primer on table setting for your next dinner party.

From left to right, start with the fork you will use first. If you have a salad as a starter, the salad fork is placed to the left of the plate, followed by the dinner fork. In the middle, a dinner plate topped with a napkin. On the right, the knife (with the blade facing the plate) and spoon.

A place setting as pretty as this one (pottery and cutlery from Maxi B. Home, 7030 Executive Center Dr., Brentwood) will make even take out feel like a dinner party.

Have you ever been at a crowded table and wondered which drink glass or bread plate is yours? This trick will give you mad dinner party skills.

With your left hand, using your thumb and middle finger, create the letter B. With the right hand, using your thumb and middle finger, create the letter D.

The bread plate (with a B) is always to the left of the plate. The drink glass (with a D) is placed to the right of the plate.

Adding a bread knife, placed diagonally across the bread plate, is nice, but not a must with a more casual dining setting.

From left to right, letter D to letter B, blade facing the plate and napkin atop the plate, these simple rules will help you create a beautiful tablescape.