How to Set a Table

How to Set a Table

Publish Date September 16, 2022 3 Minute Read

If you’re hosting a formal dinner party or holiday meal, setting the table properly will set an important tone – showing you care about your guests and you’re excited to dine with them.

The table-setting process is pretty easy to learn. For instance, forks are placed to the left of a plate, and knives and spoons to the right. Stemware is set above and to the right of the dinner plate; bread-and-butter plates go above and to the left. You begin eating a meal by using the silverware at the outside left and right, then work your way in toward the plate as the meal proceeds.

Let’s check out the process and the variables in play.

How to Set a Table

Take your hosting skills to the next level, learn how to set a table for a formal dinner and impress your guests with unique napkin folds.

What Goes on the Table First

The biggest difference between a casual table and a formal table is the use of chargers (or service plates). Typically, they’re set out before the meal and stay until the entrée, when they’re replaced with the dinner plate. Some hosts prefer the look of a dinner plate atop a charger, but the charger should definitely be cleared before dessert.

Traditionally, formal place settings tend to forego placemats – particularly if a tablecloth is used – but you can use a round placemat under a charger for a decorative look.

The use of a tablecloth makes a charger optional; you can simply anchor each space with the dinner plate.

Let’s now build the place settings from the inside out. (Note: Only set out the silverware you need – if you’re not serving soup, for example, don’t set out a soup spoon.)

  • The dinner fork goes to the left of the dinner plate or charger, and the dinner knife goes to the right, with its blade turned toward the center.
  • Above the plate, place a dessert spoon (a teaspoon) with the handle pointing to the right. If also setting out a dessert fork, place it just below that spoon, with the handle pointing to the left.
  • A salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork, and a soup spoon (if needed) goes to the right of the dinner knife.
  • The salad plate goes on top of the dinner plate or charger.
  • If you’re having soup – which precedes the salad course – you can place the soup bowl atop the salad plate if you like a layered look. Otherwise, have the salad plate take the place of the soup bowl after bowls are cleared.
  • Place the bread plate to the top left of the dinner plate or charger. Place a butter knife horizontally atop the bread plate, with the handle pointing to the right and the blade facing inwards towards the dinner plate.
  • The water glass, plus white and red wine glasses, go in the upper right corner of the place setting. The water glass should be closest to the guest; the red wine glass goes to the right. The white wine glass sits behind the other glasses, forming a triangle.
  • A coffee cup and saucer can be set below the glasses with the dessert course.

The Finishing Touches

Some traditionalists maintain that napkins should be folded under the forks. However, guests remove the napkin as soon as they sit down, which disrupts the place setting and can be noisy…so it’s more desirable to place the napkin atop the dinner plate or charger. Napkins are commonly placed in a 4-fold or standing fan design, or threaded through a napkin ring.

Let guests know where they’ll be seated by using place cards – simply set them directly above each dessert spoon. It’s also helpful to write guests’ names on both sides of the place cards.

Final Considerations

When dining, remember to work your way from the outside in with silverware while progressing through the courses. Once a utensil has touched food, it’s proper etiquette to leave it atop the plate or in the bowl.

Ready to host your formal gathering? Get even more meal planning tips and tricks in our blog.