We Had 15 People Set a Table and Only 2 Got It Right

You read that right! Most folks don't know how to set a table properly. We'll teach you how!

Like home economics class, setting a table the right way might becoming a bit of a lost art. Don’t believe me? I put 15 staffers to the test asking them to set a casual dinner table and only two folks managed to get it just right. Now you might be thinking that as long as there are utensils, a plate and a napkin, you’re good to go—but there’s so much more to it than that!

Why Learning How to Set a Table Is So Important

Let’s face it: Most of the time, we’re enjoying casual meals at home—I’m talking casseroles, easy weeknight dinners and even the occasional frozen pizza. In these instances, setting a proper table seems just plain silly. But setting a table isn’t so much about perfecting your everyday dining as it is being a top-notch host and gracious guest.

You’ll Look Extra Polished at Home

A well-dressed table sets the stage for any special occasion, be it a dinner party with friends or your next holiday party. When your guests see that the table is set with an extra fork or a cloth napkin, it signals to them that this isn’t your ordinary meal—it’s an occasion to be savored.

I’m not saying that you need to be fussy, of course. My super ultra-casual family might give me a good ribbing if I suddenly started using place cards and fancy napkin folds (though there’s nothing wrong with either—I just know my audience). Instead, I just like to put a little extra into the everyday. I make sure my tablecloth is clean and pressed, everything is neatly arranged on the table and my wine glasses are polished. That, plus the right configuration of utensils and plates, can tee you up for an extra special meal.

You’ll Be at Ease Everywhere Else

Half of knowing how to set a table isn’t about physically setting the table at all—it’s about understanding how to approach more formal dining whether you’re out for dinner or a guest a wedding. After all, who hasn’t sat down at a nice restaurant only to wonder what that extra knife is for or which glass to use first? When you know the basics of setting a table, you won’t even need to hesitate (or watch your neighbors for tips)—you’ll know right away that your salad fork is farthest to the left, that the small dish above your plate is for bread and which water glass is yours. Knowing those basics can help you feel more at ease and ready to embrace the scrumptious meal ahead.

How to Set a Table

Setting a table doesn’t have to be difficult. All table settings—be they for casual meals or the most elaborate dinner party—start with the basics. Place your plate right in the center, then arrange your fork on the left side and your knife then spoon on the right. You can place your napkin on top of the plate or under the fork. As for the drinkware, pop it above the plate on the right side.

Taste of Home

And not every table needs to be elaborate. Not serving bread? Skip the bread plate. Serving salad? Add an extra fork to the left of your dinner fork. Only place what you need on the table. This makes your job easier and makes dining simpler for your guests.

If you want to go beyond basics, consult our guide for setting tables for all kinds of occasions.

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa is also dedicated to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.