How to Set a Table

Setting the table is often a hurried, last-minute task that can leave you wondering about the correct placement of the flatware, plates, napkins and glassware.

Don't add stress to your dinner plans, and keep the focus on the food, your family and friends, with these super easy table setting ideas.

Start with a basic setting to dress up the table and set a casual mood for your dinner party or holiday gathering. For a more formal setting, add more pieces by bringing additional plates, silverware, glasses and other serving pieces to the table as outlined below.

You'll be a dinner party pro in no time!

Basic Table Setting

This setting is appropriate for most occasions, and you just add to the basic pieces as needed.

The dinner plate is positioned in the center of the place setting and everything else is placed around it. Then, the flatware is arranged around the plate in the order in which it will be used:

  • To the left of the plate is the fork.
  • To the right of the plate is the knife and spoon. The knife is placed to the right of the plate with the sharp edge toward the plate. To the right of the knife is the spoon.
  • A water glass goes above the knife.

Napkins can be placed under the forks or on the plate for an informal setting.

Informal Dinner or Luncheon Table Setting

Simply start with a Basic Setting and add to it with these items:

  • If a salad is to be served, the salad fork is placed to the left of the dinner fork. Eliminate the salad fork if no salad is served or place it to the right of the dinner fork to use as a dessert fork if appropriate. (The dessert fork can also be brought to the table when dessert is served.)
  • If soup is served, set the bowl on the plate and a soup spoon to the right of the beverage spoon.
  • Salad or bread and butter plates go to the left of the forks. Position butter plates above the forks with the butter spreader placed across the plate.
  • Cup and saucer go above the spoons with the handle toward the right. Wine or water glasses can be positioned to the left of the coffee cup.

Formal Dinner Table Setting

Begin with the setting for an informal dinner or luncheon and add to it using the following ideas:

  • White and red wine glasses (if necessary) along with the water glasses are positioned to the left of the coffee cup.
  • The beverage, soup and/or dessert spoons are to the right of the knife or can be brought to the table when soup or dessert is served.
  • To dress it up more, place a charger under the dinner plate.

How to Make a Sit-Down Dinner Special

The holidays are a perfect time to add a little elegance to the table. Instead of a casual family-style supper, where food is passed from one person to another, host a formal sit-down dinner, where individual plates of food are served to guests. Here's how:

  • Keep the guest list small.
  • Bring out your china, crystal, silver and best linen cloths. Use place cards so guests don't have to guess where to sit.
  • When selecting a centerpiece for the table, make sure it isn't too tall (10 to 12 inches is an acceptable maximum height), otherwise guests won't be able to see each other across the table.
  • Serve appetizers and beverages in the living room before sitting down. You'll have one less course to bring to the table.
  • Before calling guests to the table, fill water goblets and put out the bread and butter for guests to pass. If you're serving a salad, fill individual salad plates and set them at each place setting. Consider chilling the salad plates in the refrigerator for several hours to keep greens crisp.
  • If your dinner plates are oven-safe, set the oven to the lowest possible temperature and place the stacked plates in the oven to warm while enjoying salad and bread. If your dishes are not oven-safe, rinse them under hot water and dry just before filling.
  • When guests have finished with the salad, clear the plates and utensils used. Then prepare and garnish individual dinner plates in the kitchen.
  • Before serving dessert, clear the table of all dishes, including extra glasses, salt and pepper shakers and condiment dishes.
  • Serve the dessert and coffee cups. Place the sugar and creamer on the table.
  • Avoid the temptation to clear the table and start washing dishes…that can wait until after your guests leave.