How to Set a Table: A Guide With Absolutely Everything to Know

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Are you throwing a dinner party and wondering how to set a table that will wow your guests? With dessert spoons, soup spoons, teaspoons, and more, no wonder you’re curious! We’re sharing everything you need to know for how to properly set a table!

Overhead table with flowers, table runner, napkins and plates.

Displaying thoughtful etiquette and good manners is essential for three crucial reasons. (Besides that they singlehandedly enhance the social dining experience!)

First, your place settings set the tone for the evening, whether that be formal or casual. Second, it shows people how much effort you’ve put in which makes them feel important to you! And last, it makes your food looks great.

So, if you’re wondering how to create the perfect ambiance, look no further. We’ve compiled a guide that covers both casual, formal and modern table settings. If you have any questions, consult this list for all your answers!

table setting

5 Classic Table Settings Every Host Should Know

  • Casual Simple Table Setting
  • Formal Table Setting
  • Modern Table Setting
  • Informal Table Setting
  • Buffet Table Setting

How to Set a Table for a Casual Dinner

Maybe you’re throwing a birthday party or a semi-casual Mother’s Day bash. Whatever the excuse (and who needs one?) casual dinner parties have their place in the world of proper etiquette!

simple table setting guide

Let’s assume by now you’ve got your RSVPed guests collected. Use that number to gather the appropriate amount of supplies per person:

  • A chic placemat and/or beautiful napkin
  • A dinner plate
  • A salad plate, if you’re serving salad
  • A soup bowl, if you’re serving soup
  • A dinner fork and dinner knife, as well as a salad fork and soup spoon
  • A water glass or water goblets
  • A red or white wine glass
  • A cocktail glass 

It’s essential to plan your courses ahead of time so you know what equipment you need. If you’re skipping the salad or soup, feel free to do everything on the list but those.

Steps to Setting a Simple Table Setting

  • First, put down your placemat if you’re using one.
  • Set the dinner plate in the center of the placemat (or directly in front of the seat, if no placemat).
  • If you’re having salad, set the salad plate atop the dinner plate in the center. If you’re having soup, place the soup bowl atop the salad plate.
  • Your napkin can either sit atop the dinner plate or on the left of the dinner plate, where you can place silverware on top.
  • The fork always goes to the left. Imagine your guests are cutting a piece of chicken or steak typically they’d hold the meat steady with the fork in their left hand while carving with the knife in their right hand. Thus, the knife always goes to the right.
  • The knife always points at the water glass with the blades facing the plate. Place your water glass directly above the knife’s point. If you’re serving wine, the wine glass will sit closely and diagonal to the water glass on its right side.
  • For serving soup, place the soup spoon to the right of the knife. If you’re serving a salad, put a salad fork to the left of the dinner fork.
  • The ‘main’ silverware stays closest to the dinner plate for the ‘main’ dish.

As each course is completed, you’ll take away the cutlery that was used. After the soup, you’ll remove the soup bowl and spoon, exposing the salad plate. After the salad, you’ll remove the salad plate and expose the dinner plate.

How to Set a Table for a Formal Dinner

A formal dinner set-up requires the same essentials as a basic dinner, plus a few extras. This setting is great for a special occasion or for holidays like Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas brunch. It’s also how you would set the table for a fancy wedding or milestone party where you’re serving a coursed meal.

how to set a formal table setting guide

Again, this depends on the number of courses you plan to serve. Fancier dinners usually have a main course, light dessert and/or a bread and butter plate, too. For this, you’ll need the basic table setting supplies and a few more items:

  • Bread plates
  • Butter knives
  • Dessert spoons (or cake forks)
  • Dessert plate
  • Coffee cup – If you’re serving coffee with dessert or is this setting is for a formal brunch.
  • Optional: individual salt and pepper shakers and/or a place card with the guest’s name

Once you’ve gathered the supplies, let’s move on to setting the table!

Steps to Setting a Formal Table Setting

First, lay down a table cloth, table runner or a placemat directly in front of the guest’s seat.

Atop the placemat, you’ll place your charger plate. This is also optional it’s like a placeholder for the dinner plate while your guests have the soup and salad. If you choose a charger plate, you can replace it with a dinner plate after the first two courses, or you can place the dinner plate on top of it.

On top of the charger or dinner plates, you’ll place your salad plate and then soup bowl layers of harmony!

To the left of your dinner plate, place your dinner fork. To the left of that, your salad fork. On the right side, you’ll have your dinner knife and then your soup spoon.

Napkins are usually on the left side as well, with the dinner fork and salad fork atop them.

Again, place the water glass directly above the knife’s point on the right side. Put your white or red wine glasses (or both!) near the water glass, forming a tight triangle.

If you’re doing dessert, place your dessert spoon or cake fork horizontally right above the dinner plate. Its horizontal position relays the message that that utensil is for later in the meal.

The bread plate is on the top left of the arrangement, mirroring the glasses on the other side. Atop the bread plate is the butter knife, which should always lay horizontally and parallel to the dessert utensil.

If you’re using place cards, put them right above the dessert utensil. Write the guest’s name on both sides of the card. Individual salt and pepper shakers will bookend the place card salt on the left, pepper on the right.

How to Set a Modern Table

Printable Table Setting Guide

Furthermore, we created a very handy modern table setting guide that you can download, print or pin for reference! A quick glance and you can see where to place everything on the table.

This setting is good for any party or event that is not formal, but also not super casual. Something like a charcuterie party or a wine and cheese gathering.

hoe to set a table setting graphic

And now you know how to properly set a table! You’re ready to host a dinner party!

Decorative Table Setting Items

Name Cards – Name cards can go directly on top of the napkin or above the dinner plate. Use these when you have assigned seating for your guests.

Table Linens – Add color and texture to the dining table using festive table linens. This includes table runners, table cloths and napkins. Also see our tips for how to care for table linens.

Napkin Rings – This is made to hold a table napkin or serviette neatly on a dining table. Instead of folding a napkin perfectly, use napkin rings to add some charm to an informal setting.

Flowers – Flowers add color, texture and charm to any table setting. Place them in the center of the table. Use low floral arragements so guests can see eachother over the flowers.

You can also add a decorative botanical on top of the napkin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where does the napkin go when setting a table?

You can get creative with napkin placement! Place it in the center of the plate or in a napkin ring to the left of the forks. You can also place it under the salad plate or folded under the forks.

Where does butter knife go in place setting?

The butter knife lays on top of the bread plate pointing down and left.

What side do cups go on?

All cups and glasses including water glasses, cocktail glasses and wine glasses are placed to the top right of the plate. If you’re serving coffee, coffee cups and saucers are placed above and to the right of the knife and spoons.

Is the fork on the left or right?

Forks should be set to the left of the plate. The largest fork is placed next to the plate, then the salad fork next to that.

How do you set a table with wine glasses?

When serving a red and white wine, place the wine glasses below the water glass and down in a line. Start with a water glass, then a red wine glass, then a white wine glass, and continue for as many wine glasses as you need.

Place the glasses in order from what wine you’re serving. Start with the wine glass closest to the water glass.

What is the proper way to set silverware on a table?

Here is a quick guide on placing utensils on a table setting: 

  • Fork to the left of the plate.
  • Knife to the right of the plate with the blade facing the plate.
  • Spoon to the right of the knife.
  • Small salad fork to the right of the fork.
  • Dinner fork and spoon at the top of the plate.

What are the 2 major types of place setting?

The two major types of place settings are casual and formal. We cover all the details for setting both tables using these most popular settings.

How do you set up a simple table?

To set an informal place setting use our casual table setting guide. This is setting uses a dinner plate and salad plate and a simple silverware setting too. It’s easy to do a great for casual dinner parties and gatherings.

What is the correct way to set a table?

Here are the basic steps for the correct way to set a table:

Place the dinner plate in the center of the table setting.

The fork is placed to the left of the plate. If you have two forks, the larger fork is placed closest to the plate.

Place the knife to the right of the dinner plate and then set the spoon to the right of the knife.

Set the water glass in the top right corner, above the knife.

How do you set a table for beginners?

Setting a table is very easy and once you do it a few times, you’ll be a pro! For beginners, follow our casual table setting guide for helpful tips on how to properly set a table.

how to set a dinner table

And there you have it how to set a table for your loving guests.

Your friends and family (and you!) will love the extra effort you’ve put in to provide a wonderful experience. Your dinner parties will be unforgettable, and so will the memories that come out of it.

Now it’s time to get down to the specifics. What food and drink will you serve your attendees? We can help there, too. Check out our recipes here!

Also, our wine guide is perfect for learnings me basic tips for serving wine! You can also read more about the different types of wine and what to serve with each variety.

To become the ultimate host, see our 10 entertaining tips to live by! And check out our party buying guide to calculate how supplies.

Table Setting Ideas You’ll Love!

A Modern Thanksgiving Table Setting

A Charming Christmas Table Setting

5 Tips for Beautiful Thanksgiving Decor

Easter Brunch Table Setting

Christmas Table Decorations and Table Setting

Thanksgiving Table Setting

Rustic Christmas Table Setting

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10 thoughts on “How to Set a Table: A Guide With Absolutely Everything to Know”

  1. This is so helpful, thank you so much! I love setting up our table and making it beautiful for my family and friends so this is an excellent idea!

    Reply
  2. This is so great. I have never seen such a detailed outline. When things return to “normal” I am going to make a fancy dinner and dress up my table to have some friends over. Thanks.

    Reply

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