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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 dining 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.  The point of etiquette is not ever to try and trip people up or test them.  The purpose of standardized table settings is so that dinner guests know what to expect, and where everything should be.  This should help everyone feel 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 for any dinner parties, special occasions, or everyday life.  A properly set table with everything in the right place is the perfect way to make everyone feel comfortable and have a great time while you enjoy great food and quality time together.how to set a casual table

Casual Table Setting

For casual table settings for casual meals, 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 table setting and including an oyster fork) and knives and spoons go on the right. Place your dinner fork to the left of the plate.   Place the knife to the right of the plate.  The blade of the knife always faces in towards the plate.  The spoon goes to the right of the knife.

Place the napkin under or beside the fork, or on the centre plate -which ever you prefer.  You can also choose to include napkin rings, if you wish for an informal table.

Lastly, the water glass should be above the knife.

casual place setting

Formal Table Setting

For a formal table setting for a special occasion start with a base layer of a tablecloth, or a table runner and placemat, and /or charger plates on your dining room table.

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

How To Set Formal Cutlery

For elegant table settings, 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 knives for each person, or expect to have one at their place setting. 

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.  This 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.  Whichever you prefer the look of.

For a formal dinner, you can also include place cards.  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 the names also.

Beautiful Centerpiece

For a special table you may want to start with some fresh flowers on the center of your table to add some visual interest.  Faux flowers are a great option for a table centerpiece.   Choose a floral arrangement to match your color scheme.  For a more casual table setting the centerpiece could even be a bowl of fresh fruit in the middle of the table. Candles are a great addition to the table, and easy way to add elegance.  Choose non-scented candles so that they don’t compete with the food smells.  It’s always nice to add some natural elements.  

Depending on the time of year, you might want include some seasonal touches for your next dinner party.  You could add in small pumpkins, and traditional orange with your fall flowers for a simple Thanksgiving table setting, Natural materials are always a great addition, especially to add a rustic feel,  For Christmas dinner you could add pine cones and votive candles to your centerpiece.

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.



With a beautifully set table, life really is a party!

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