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How To Set A Table

How To Set A Table: the basics for setting a casual table, and all the details of how to properly set a formal dinning table.

how to set a table

The Purpose of Etiquette

Where do you start when it comes to how to set a table?  Begin with the fact that the purpose of etiquette is for everyone to feel comfortable -not ever to try and trip people up or test them.  The purpose of standardized table settings is so that everyone knows what to expect, and where everything should be, so that everyone feels comfortable and confident.  If you ever see your guests struggling, lead the way for them, and create an atmosphere so everyone feels at ease. 

There are no table setting or etiquette police.  With these basics you should be able to set a table you’re proud of, and that you and guests feel comfortable at.how to set a casual table

Casual Tablesetting

Some people like to start with a placemat, but for a casual table setting the plate directly on the table is fine too.  Next centre the plate in front of each chair.  As a general rule, forks go on the left (the only exception is if you are setting a formal dinner and including an oyster fork) and knives and spoons go on the right. Place your dinner fork to the left of the plate, and the knife to the right of the plate, with the blade of the knife facing in.  The spoon goes to the right of the knife.

Place the napkin under the fork, or on the centre plate -which ever you prefer. 

Lastly, the water glass should be above the knife.

casual place setting

Formal Table Setting

For a formal table setting start with a base layer of a table cloth, or placemat, or charger plate.

Next layer on your dinner plate.  If you are serving salad, layer the salad plate next, followed by the soup bowl if you’re serving soup.

How To Set Formal Cutlery

To the left of the plate place the forks.  The cutlery is placed from the outside in towards the plate, by course.  We’ve included a salad fork and diner fork, as is traditional for North America.  You might also include a fish fork, or move the salad fork over if you’re serving salad after the main course as some European countries do.

On the right side of the place setting place the knives and spoons, again working from the outside in.  Always have the knife blade pointing toward the plate.

Only set pieces you are planning on using for the meal. Never add extra cutlery or glasses that are not needed for the meal. 

The bread plate is traditionally above the forks.  If you have a large centrepiece there might not be room to place it there, so it can be shifted to the left side of the forks.  Some people include a butter knife set diagonally on the bread plate, but these days most people don’t own a whole set of butter knifes for each person, or expect to have one at their placesetting. 

Above the dinner plate, place the dessert spoon and fork.  The fork should be on the bottom pointed to the right.  The spoon should be on the top, facing the opposite direction.  Some people to prefer to not set dessert cutlery and bring it out when coffee and dessert are served.

How To Set Formal Glassware

To the right of the plate, above the knives are the glasses.  Start by setting a water glass above the knife, this glass should be the easiest for the guest to reach.  Then work your way out by courses.  Typically you’d have a champagne flute next, if you’re serving champagne or sparkling wine.  The is followed by your white wine glass typically paired with your fish or chicken, then lastly a red wine glass for your meat course.   These would be set on a diagonal.  You can also set up glasses in triangle or diamond if you’re short on space. 

In keeping with the glasses being arranged in order of use, the coffee cup would be the furthest out, to the right of the cutlery.  Some people like to set coffee cups, and others prefer to bring them to the table when dessert is served.

The napkin can be placed on the dinner plate, to the left of the forks with a napkin ring, or under the forks.  Which ever you prefer the look of.

For a formal dinner, you can also include a place card.  Some people like to write the name on both sides of the place card.  This allows guests to find their spot, and other guests can easily read their name also.

how to set a formal table setting

Printable Table Setting Infographic

All the table setting rules all in one place in this handy and printable How To Set A Table Infographic.  

how to set a table infographic

Want to print this?  Subscribe below to have access to our free printable library and download the pdf for printing.


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