Selecting Candles For Dinners, Weddings, And Restaurants

By: Bob Sherman

Why Use Candles?
Candles enhance the mood of any dining experience. Although candles can set a romantic mood, the appeal of a burning candle goes well beyond that. The beauty of a flame fascinates and touches humans on an almost primal level. My theory is that this love of watching flames while dining is ingrained into the human psyche.

Primitive humans huddled around open fires for cooking, heat, and protection from wild animals. This evolved into indoor fireplaces used for cooking, heating, and light. Eventually this was replaced by fireplaces used solely for light and heat (cooking being done on stoves in an era when fireplaces were the only source of heat for a room). In modern times the fireplace is still used, but more commonly for ambiance and this desire for a flame while dining is most often attained with candles.I feel that this desire for open flame when dining is in large part an instinctual association that equates fire with warmth and safety. In a time when alternate sources of light and heat are much more efficient, humans still gravitate towards fire. Candles, fireplaces, and even camp fires are still in common use and the one thing they all have in common is an open flame.

There are several advantages to using candles to supply this flame:
Candles are portable (fireplaces are not).
Candles require no maintenance to stay lit (fireplaces require regular attention).
Candles are more compact and can be placed on the table.
Candles can be obtained in many sizes, shapes, and colors for additional ambiance.
Candles are easily extinguished when the dinner is over.

Scented Or Unscented?
If you are selecting candles to burn while dining, always use unscented candles. The accepted practice is to never use scented candles when serving food. The larger the gathering, the more important this becomes.Some people will not like the scent you have chosen, and some may even find it offensive. Different people perceive scents differently.Some people lose their appetite in the presence of scented candles.In larger gatherings there is a very good chance that one or more guests may be allergic to the scent. There is virtually nothing on earth that someone is not allergic to.

Burn Time
Aside from being unscented there is one other important property - burn time. A candle that burns out before the dinner ends will not prove satisfactory. In most cases a well made candle will have no trouble burning for 5 or more hours. The key point here is well made - the burn time of some cheap import candles can often be more easily measured in minutes than in hours.Most quality candle suppliers can tell you the average burn time of their products. Note that this is generally the average burn time under optimum conditions so always select a candle with an average burn time longer than you need. If for some reason you need to purchase from a supplier that can't supply the average burn time, purchase a few and burn them yourself before committing to large quantities.

Candle Types
There are four main types of candles commonly used when dining, at affairs, or in restaurants.
Taper Candles
Dinner tapers are most commonly associated with small romantic dinners at home although they are sometimes used for larger gatherings. Tapers work well and have an elegant refined look. A well made 12 inch long taper candle may burn as long as 7 hours. The main drawback to tapers is they require a holder or candelabra, which may strain the budget when planning an affair.
Floating Candles
Floating candles or floaters as they are commonly called make great additions to your centerpieces. As the name implies, they are designed to float upright in water. These are most popular at weddings and other banquets, however some restaurants use them as well. A common practice is to float several in a large bowl along with some flower petals. Since the candle is surrounded by water, there is a reduced risk of fire should some guests get rowdy. They are available in a wide variety and very large floaters are sometimes used in swimming pools and ponds for outdoor weddings. If using them in ponds, they should be anchored away from shore to avoid setting vegetation on fire. In some areas these are the only type of candles allowed at banquets by law.
Pillar Candles
Most often used in groupings of three or more in varying heights, but sometimes incorporated into floral designs. Pillar candles will burn right to the bottom so it is essential that they be placed on a fire resistant bas such as glass or mirror. Pillars are timeless and a popular wedding decoration.
Votive Candles
Votives are a long burning, inexpensive candle most popular in restaurants. It is important to note that they are not just small pillar candles. Votives require a snug fitting glass holder for optimum burn time, and without it that 15 hour votive may last as little as 1 hour. The more snug the holder the better it will burn, and using an oversize holder will reduce the total burn time. Commonly available in 8, 10, and 15 hour sizes.

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Bob Sherman is the author of Candle Making, From Beginner To Expert , several e-books, and hundreds of candle making projects. He has over 36 years of experience and is the tech support expert at

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