Even if you’ve been setting your dinner table for years, you may not know the “proper” way to set cutlery, plate ware, place settings, and more. There are specific rules for how a formal dinner table is meant to look; this applies whether you are just doing a basic table setting for a casual get-together or a more advanced table setting for a formal dinner. While you always have the freedom to deviate from traditional table settings, it’s always good to know the rules so you can decide whether or not you want to break them!

Basic Table Setting

Basic table setting begins with planning the location, occupancy, and content of your dinner. For example, are you planning to have 4 guests or 12 guests in total? Will you use a round table or a square table? Perhaps most importantly, what kind of food will you serve? By extension, what kind of cutlery and plate ware will you and your guests require?

Answering all of these questions will help you manage a basic table setting with ease. Assuming that you just want a simple table setting for a casual dinner with friends or family, you should first focus on the headcount. Naturally, you can’t always control the number of guests who arrive, but it’s generally easier to work with even numbers. An even number of guests (including yourself) can work with square, rectangular, or circular tables. Alternatively, an odd number of guests is easiest to manage at a circular dinner table.

Tables & Chairs

You likely don’t want to completely redesign your dining area for a casual dinner, so you may just have to make do with the table you already have. In any case, let’s assume that you are using a rectangular table and you plan to have a total of 8 people eating. When you have even numbers and symmetrical table designs, you want to ensure that every chair and place setting has an equal and opposite place setting. This way, a guest is always facing another guest directly in front of them.

How to Properly Set a Table

Once you have the table and chairs aligned correctly, you can begin to put down place settings. When you set a place setting, it should align with each chair and there should only be one place setting for each guest. When you have your place settings properly set, you can move on to the serving dishes, plate ware, and cutlery.

Again, you will have to plan ahead a little to determine what kind of utensils and dishes are required. If you plan to serve a stew, you will want to use bowls and spoons, while if you’re serving a more dynamic meal that features various food types, you might want to use traditional plates with silverware.

In either case, it’s pretty easy to create a simple table setting for a casual dinner. Your dinner plate will go in the middle of the place setting. You may choose to put a smaller salad plate and soup bowl on top of the dinner plate (prior to the beginning of the meal). Once you begin serving the meal, you can remove the salad plates and bowls, placing them above the dinner plate, typically in the top-left corner of the place setting. Water and wine glasses should typically be placed in the upper-right corner of the place setting.

Finally, the napkin should be folded and placed to the left of the dinner plate. While the exact type of cutlery will depend on the type of food you’re serving, most meals will call for a fork, knife, and spoon. For a casual dinner, the fork is placed on top of the napkin (on the left side of the plate), while the soup spoon and dinner knife are placed to the right of the plate. The knife should be to the left of the spoon, with the cutting edge of the knife facing the plate.

And there you have it! These are the basic rules for setting a dinner table. Naturally, you do have some freedom to make adjustments. For example, some people choose to keep their water and wine glasses turned upside down until the meal begins. This prevents dust or other debris from floating into the open glasses. Additionally, you also have the freedom to add decorations in the center of the table, like floral arrangements and candles. Just remember to leave enough space for any serving dishes. Otherwise, your guests will have to retreat to the kitchen for seconds or thirds!

How To Set A Formal Table

While a basic or casual table setting is pretty straightforward, a formal dinner table requires more rules, more pieces, and a greater understanding of how to set a dinner table properly. For example, a casual dinner table does not necessarily require matching dinnerware. However, a formal dinner table should always feature high-end, matching plates and dinnerware.

Additionally, it is general more important to focus on aesthetic appeal for a formal dinner (as opposed to a casual meal). This means that you might want to invest in extras like napkin holders, matching salt and pepper shakers, centerpieces, and even candelabras. Fortunately, the exact design of your table is really up to you. Whether you choose a more rustic aesthetic or something modern and minimalistic, it’s important to put effort into your design to create a truly impressive dinner table!

Regardless of the “style” you choose, you will need to know how to place silverware on the table and, more generally, how to set a dinner table properly in a formal setting. Technically speaking, setting a formal dinner table is not an exact science. In other words, you still have a little bit of wiggle room based on the number of guests, the layout of your table, the type of meal your serving, and various other factors. That said, you will need to consider that there are “rules” in place for how cutlery and dinner ware should be placed. Many of these rules date back more than a century, so if you really want to make a great impression with your guests, it’s best to stick with the established methodology!

First, you will need to begin with your place settings. Like you would for a casual dinner, you must have one place setting for every guest. The place setting should line up perfectly with each chair. Next, you should place the dinner plate at the center of each place setting. If you plan on having multiple courses, you may need to switch out the central piece of plate ware between courses.

Once you have the dinner plate in place, you should either fold your napkins or roll them using napkin rings before placing one on top of each plate. Most formal dinner tables have a primary dinner plate and a smaller bread plate that is set in the top-left corner of each place setting. To the left of the dinner plate, you will typically have at least two forks. Closest to the plate is the salad fork, next comes the dinner fork, and then you may also include a fish fork on the far left side.

On the right side of the plate, you should place a dinner knife closest to the plate, then a fish knife (optional), and finally a soup spoon. Above the plate is where the dessert cutlery goes. You should typically place these pieces horizontally, with a dessert fork facing to the left (placed nearest to the plate) and a dessert spoon above it, facing to the right. Finally, no formal dinner table would be complete without a water glass, and two wine glass options for red and white wine. These are placed in the top-right corner of the place setting. With all of this in place, you are now ready to have a formal dinner with friends and family!

We hope you found this guide on how to set a table for dinner useful! Now, would you like to find some high-quality dinnerware sets to brighten up your dinner table? If so, be sure to check out some of the options at Stone Lain today!