How to Set a Table


Whether you’re throwing a dinner party at your home or thinking of starting your own catering business, knowing how to set a table is important to make the guests feel comfortable when they eat. This will greatly improve your party hosting skills. It used to be that most only those from prominent families are knowledgeable about how to set a table. These days, if you go to a fine dining restaurant or any formal event, you are expected to know the basics of proper table setting because it serves as a guide on how you should eat your meal.

You will often find formal table settings in luxury hotels as well as 5-star restaurants, especially those served by famous chefs.

You can also have the proper table setting for your dinner parties by following this simple guide. It may just help you close a business deal or at the very least, impress your guests. Learn the proper placement of flatware, napkins, and glassware. The right table setting also helps set the mood for the type of meal you are having whether it’s a casual or formal one.

Basic Concept

The basic concept that you need to keep in mind when learning how to set a table is that utensils should be placed in the order that they are going to be used. That means you work from the outside to the inside.

Another rule is that forks go to the lest of the plate while knives and spoons should be on the right. Though there are a few exceptions to this depending on the scenario.

Most importantly, when you set a table, you should only set it with the utensils and glassware that will be used. If there is no soup, there should be no spoon in the table setting.

Steps to Set a Table

There are at least 3 table settings that are suitable for different occasions. The basic table setting is what you would use for everyday dinner. There is the informal or casual table setting and the formal setting.

  • Basic Table Setting

    This setting is used on most occasions and you can add pieces as necessary. It’s easy to master and is a very handy skill at home and when you’re having guests over the holidays. It involves a placemat, cutlery, and a dinner plate plus the glass and napkin.

    Start by laying the placemat on the table. The dinner plate should be in the middle of the mat and everything else is placed around it. Then, the flatware should be arranged in the order that they will be used.

    Put the napkin to the left of the plate and place the fork on it. To the right, position the knife closest to the plate with the blade pointing in. The spoon comes next or to the right of the knife. Keep the bottom of all utensils level to the plate. The water glass should be placed slightly above the plate. It should be in between the knife and the plate.

    Sometimes, it is acceptable to set the napkin on top of the plate when you set a table in the basic setting. Though it can create a more formal feel to the occasion.

  • Informal or Casual Table Setting

    If you’re serving an informal 3-course dinner, the typical setting is the casual or informal table setting. Essentially, you would start with the basic table setting and add a few items. Remember not to set any item that will not be used. If salad will not be served, only set a dinner fork. If you’re only serving white wine, do not place a red wine glass.

    Just as you set a table for the basic setting, start by laying the placemat on the table. Put the dinner plate in the center of the mat and arrange the utensils around it. If the course includes a salad, place the salad plate on top of the dinner plate. If there is no salad, remove the salad plate.

    When you’re serving a soup course, the soup bowl should be placed on top of the salad plate. Of course, if there is no salad and there is soup, the soup bowl should be just on top of the dinner plate.

    Place the napkin either to the left of the forks or on the center of the dinner plate. Sometimes, you can fold the napkin and put it under the forks. To the right, place the knife closest to the plate followed by the spoon, if you’re serving soup.

    The water glass should be set right above the knife. Slightly above the water glass, you should set the wine glass or a glass or cup for another beverage.

  • Formal Table Setting

    Now you know how to set a table for the most used settings, the basic and the casual settings. The formal table setting would come in handy when you’re having formal dinners like in a wedding. You need to set a table in the formal setting when you’re hosting an elegant dinner party. The biggest difference in a casual and formal setting is the use of presentation plates. Traditionally, placemats are not used when you set a table in a formal setting but you can still use a round one underneath a presentation plate to make it look more formal.

    This table setting includes many pieces, including bread plates, butter knives, dessert spoons, and two wine glasses among the basic items.

    First, place an ironed tablecloth on the table. Put a presentation plate on each seat and on the center, place a soup bowl. The bread plate should be on the top left of the plate and the napkin to its left. The dinner fork should be inside the napkin and the salad fork on the outside.

    To the right of the plate, place the knife closest to the plate with the blade facing inside and the soup spoon beside it. Space them evenly, about an inch away.

    The butter knife should be on top of the bread plate with the blade facing in and the handle to the right. Above the plate is the dessert spoon with the handle to the right. The water glass should be above the knife and to its right is the white wine glass then the red wine glass.