Casual and formal dinners should look — and taste – very different.
As if preparing the food for a dinner party wasn’t stressful enough, there’s also the struggle of setting the table correctly. Whether you’re hosting an intimate dinner with friends or a fancy three-course meal during the holidays, there is a certain etiquette to follow when placing plates, utensils, and glasses on the table.
Follow this step-by-step guide while preparing for your next dinner party, no matter the occasion.
How to Set a Table
Set a Formal Table
To set a formal table, you’ll need a table cloth, charger, dinner plates, soup bowls, salad plates, bread plates, napkins, salad forks, dinner forks, knives, soup spoons, butter knives, dessert spoons, water glasses, red wine glasses, and white wine glasses.
If you’re hosting a festive party, you’ll need to know how to set a dinner table for the holidays and impress your guests. In fact, the dinner table is the focal point of any feast, creating a welcoming first impression. In addition, it can uplift a drab, dining table and make mealtimes more exciting.
Whether you’re hosting an intimate dinner for a select few or cooking up a storm, knowing how to set a dinner table the correct way is useful to know. The etiquette of where to place the right fork or knife for each course doesn’t have to be limited to fancy restaurants!
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Plus, it’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit and celebrate in style with loved ones. So if you want to go all out on those hosting skills, here’s how to set a dinner table this holiday.
How to set a dinner table this holiday
1. First, lay out a clean and ironed tablecloth on the dining table. If you prefer not to use a tablecloth, you can use linen table runners in the center.
2. Next, set a charger for each guest. Chargers or server plates are large, decorative plates which are used as a backdrop for your dinner plates. The idea is that when the main course is served, the charger should be swapped out for the correct dinner plate.
3. In the center of the charger, place a soup bowl (optional) Then place the bread plate to the top left of the charger. Add the butter knife on the plate with the handle facing right for easy reach.
4. Place a cloth napkin to the right of the charger. It’s also popular to place a napkin in the centre of the plate.
5. To the left of the charger, place the salad fork on the outside, and the dinner fork on the inside. On the right of the charger, place the dinner knife, salad knife, and soup spoon, from left to right.
6. Now for the glasses. The water glass is placed above the knives while wine is set from right to the left in the order. Typically, white wine is on the outside for the first course, and the red wine is inside for your main meal.
7. Finally, the dessert utensils are placed above the charger. Usually, the fork handle is to the left and spoon handle to the right.
Do I need name cards?
If you really want to impress, you can personalize your dinner party with name cards. Typically, these are set above the dessert spoon but you can also place them on the plate if you have limited table space. At least you can plan your guest seating arrangements to avoid any festive family drama!
Other Christmas table ideas
You can bring style to your festive table with wreaths, candles and baubles to add glamor. Christmas centerpieces are a great way to style your table, and you can find a range of designs. You’ll find centerpieces made from artificial fir tree and pine cones to ones with candle holders attached.
We particularly like this Christmas Candle Holder Centerpiece ($35, Amazon) or this Christmas Advent Wreath Centerpiece ($15, Amazon) to add that festive feel.
Other festive table ideas include mason jar candle holders, silver bells, napkin art, or you can create an ‘evergreen’ theme by adding fresh greenery, foliage, pine cones and red berries. The best thing is, you can get creative as you like to make it fun and festive for your guests to enjoy.
We have scouted the internet for tips and tricks from the very best, so you and your loved ones can enjoy the most perfect holiday meal.
Charm your guests with the perfect skills of a host! (Source: Pexels)
Winters and the festive season go hand-in-hand. Meals shared with friends and family, a nip in the air and the promise of a New Year makes it the perfect time to invite people into your home and spoil them silly with delicious food.
The menu’s set, invitations sent out and all other arrangements made–are you wondering how to go about setting the perfect dinner table? Fret not, as we have scouted the internet for tips and tricks from the very best, so that you and your loved ones can enjoy the most perfect holiday meal.
Celebrated chef and cookbook author Martha Stewart believes that the art of setting a table is fairly easy once you get the hang of the basics. While setting a formal table may seem intimidating at first, the progression towards setting a table can be made easy with a few pointers. Take a look here:
Keep track of your cutlery
The meal, which usually opens with appetizers, is eaten with flatware that is placed at the outside of the table mat. You then head towards the centre of the plate as the meal proceeds. Forks are usually placed to the left of the plate while knives and spoons are placed to the right. The glasses or stemware is set above and to the right of the dinner plate while bread-and-butter plates sit above the forks, to the left of the place setting.
Arrange for floral additions to the table
Flowers are a soothing addition to any ambience, a holiday dinner table included. Traditional ones like roses, orchids, hydrangeas, peonies, lilies etc., are elegant to look at and render a classy feel. The flower arrangements can be turned into a striking masterpiece as well, a group of hydrangeas or lilies could be arranged in a brass bowl filled with water.
Pay attention to table mats/table covers
While the food spread and festive cheer can make up for any holiday deficits, it is equally important to pay attention to table mats and covers that you’ll be eating your food on. If you ideally don’t use table mats, now might be a good time to start as it prevents unruly stains on your glass, metal or wooden table top. Delicate and dainty table mats are a good option to use in the celebratory winter months. The designs and hue can be kept complimentary to the colour of the drapes and the room in which the table was placed.
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No matter how casual the dinner party, it’s always nice to arrive at a beautifully set table. And even if you don’t know all the formal rules (we can help, but more on that later) or have a complete set of china, don’t be afraid to take some liberties and create a thoughtful tablescape with what you do have on hand. After all, the way a table is set contributes to the ambience of a meal as much as the food and wine.
“I think people do set tables still, but tend to feel intimidated by it, so they do it less than they would like to,” says etiquette expert and coach Myka Meier of Beaumont Etiquette. In fact, she says that when it comes to entertaining today, setting the table isn’t all about understanding where each fork goes and displaying your finest china—it’s about making your guests feel welcome. And Meier, who teaches etiquette at the renowned Plaza Hotel and was trained by a former member of the Queen’s household, knows a thing or two about being a gracious host. “It’s more about the effort,” she explains. “It shows your guests that you took the time to set a table for them, which conveys consideration for those coming to your home.”
Whether you want to throw a formal dinner party that takes place around a traditional table or just want to feel more confident prepping for any gathering, here are some simple guidelines to help you establish the desired tone. Perfect timing! Thanksgiving is just around the corner, after all.
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Where to Place Glasses
When setting a table, it’s important to avoid going overboard. “Only set the table for the pieces that your guests will need to enjoy the meal,” Meier says. Each place should be set with all the glasses that will be used during dinner (except dessert-wine glasses, which may be brought out when the dessert is served). The water glass belongs to the right of the plate, just above the main dining knife. Wine glasses should be set to the right of the water glasses in the order in which they will be used. For a trick to remember where your glasses go, Meier suggests this: “If you put your index finger to your thumb on both hands, the left hand creates a lowercase b (for bread), while the right hand creates a lowercase d (for drinks). This way you can remember the bread plate always goes on the left and the drinks always go on the right.”
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Before the Meal
The only pieces of china that should be part of a table setting before the meal starts are the bread plate and a charger, if desired. A service plate (also known as a charger in America) is a purely decorative, oversize plate used to add texture, color, or pattern to the table. Chargers may be made of just about anything—china, pewter, and brass are all common, but even straw or papier-mâche will do.
Remember that food is never served directly on the charger, but a first-course soup bowl or salad plate can be set on top of it. The charger should be cleared along with the bowl or plate.
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How to Place the Silverware
A proper silverware setting follows one simple rule, no matter how formal or relaxed the event: Set the silverware on the table in the order it will be used, from the outside in. The fork for the first course is the one farthest to the left; to the right of the plate, the knife for the first course is the farthest to the right. Any spoons needed before dessert (say, a soup spoon), should be placed to the right of the knives. “Set all the silverware up so that each piece lines up at the bottom; one piece of silverware should not be higher than the next,” Meier says. “Remember that there is no actual distance silverware should be set apart; it’s more important that each piece is equidistant from one another. So, if you have two forks on the left side of the plate (perhaps 1.5 inches apart) and two knives on the right, each piece of silverware is the same distance apart on both sides of the place setting.”
Dessert utensils should always be placed horizontally above the plate (depending on the level of formality), or they can be brought in with the dessert course. “Even for a multi-course meal, the maximum number of pieces of silverware that should be on the table is eight pieces, with the exception of the oyster fork, which would make nine pieces,” Meier says.
Photo: Oksana Shufrych, Shutterstock
The biggest eating holiday of the year is upon us. You’ve brainstormed the menu, shopped for sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, and thawed the turkey. (You have thawed the turkey, right?) With all the fanfare and preparation around the main event, it’s easy to give short shrift to the canvas that will display the bounty: your table. (It can also be intimidating if you didn’t grow up around formal dining functions — which is most of us.) Here’s how to make your dining room table as elegant as the meal you’ve prepared.
The art of utensil placement
Most of us know that forks are placed to the left of the plate, and spoons and knives go to the right. It’s when the quantity of said utensils increases, so does our confusion. But, as etiquette consultant Pamela Hillings told Martha Stewart, “Table setting is based on logic.” It wouldn’t make sense to have unused utensils hanging out three inches away from our plate mid-meal. Which is why flatware is placed in order of use from outside in; flatware farthest from the plate is used first, while what’s closest to the plate is used last.
On the left side of the plate you have, in order from left to right: fish fork, salad fork, dinner fork. (Note: In Europe, salad is often eaten after the main course, which is why you sometimes may see the salad fork set closest to the plate. Feel free to do this yourself if you’re feeling extra-fancy.) On the right side of the plate, set the dinner knife, fish knife, and soup spoon, in left-to-right order. (Followed by the oyster fork, if necessary.)
The bottom of the utensils should line up with the bottom rim of the plate. (Martha Stewart says this plate should be a “charger” that will be removed once the guests have placed their napkins in their laps — but a basic dinner plate can serve the same function.)
Everything dessert-related goes above the plate, in the centre. The dessert fork should rest closest to the plate, with tines facing right, while the dessert spoon lies above the fork, turned the opposite direction (handle to the right).
A few final words on utensils: Many placement variations are possible based on the meal. For example, if soup is served between salad and the main course, the spoon should be set between the two knives. Avoid crowding the table with utensils you don’t need. (If there is no soup or fish, omit those utensils from the table.) Your formal table may simply have two dining forks, a knife, and a spoon, and that’s perfectly fine.
Bread and butter plate go where?
Though it’s par for the course during a regular meal, a formal dining occasion is no place to use a dinner knife to butter a roll and rest it next to our roasted kale. No, fancy tables have separate bread plates that sit to the left of the plate, above the forks. Lay the butter knife diagonally across the bread plate for maximum table couture.
Where to place stemware
Stemware resides to the top right of the plate (above the knives and spoons). When accommodating three glasses, place the water glass above the dinner knife, white wine glass directly to its right, and the red wine glass forming the top centre of a neat glassy triangle. Another option is to place all glasses in a straight line from largest to smallest: water glass, red wine, white wine, champagne flute (with the water glass resting just to the right of the plate’s midline).
Where does the napkin go?
When setting the table as a kid, my mum taught me to place the folded napkin underneath the fork. This, however, is a swanky table faux pas. Under-the-fork napkin placement creates noise as guests work to break the humble serviette free from its shackles, potentially causing silverware to clank to the floor. For peak sophistication, place the napkin to the left of the forks, or ideally in the middle of the plate — either nicely folded or rolled with a decorative napkin ring.
Lastly, create a seating chart
If more than four guests are expected, assigned seating is recommended. Consider making place cards in advance, to be placed above each guest’s plate. Martha Stewart also says, however, not to place your place card for yourself. We weren’t able to find out why this is poor etiquette. Just trust Martha on this, OK?
There’s little that will kill the vibe of a dinner party faster than one guest drinking out of another guest’s water or wine glass because it wasn’t clear which was which. Proper glass placement on a table setting for dinner not only keeps your table from turning into a free-for-all, it also makes the table more inviting.
Informal Versus Formal Table Settings
If you’re hosting an informal get-together on your patio, proper glass placement on the table is not as important as for more formal events. If you’re hosting a casual buffet, for instance, there may not be any table settings at all! Even for casual buffets though, follow some general guidelines so guests know which glasses and utensils to use.
A basic table setting for dinner calls for forks and napkins placed to the left of the plate, and spoons and knives placed to the right. (In case you’re wondering, always eat from the outside in, and use only one utensil per course, explains Emily Post, the arbiter of etiquette since 1922). The water glass is placed to the upper right of the plate above the spoons and knives.
Setting a formal table typically calls for all of the drinkware and utensils that will be used in the meal placed in the proper position before the meal even begins. This usually means a water glass, multiple wine glasses (or beer or cocktail glasses) for each course and possibly even a coffee cup and saucer (although in very formal service, this will be brought out later). Whether you’re setting a formal or an informal table, put out only the drinkware you will need. If you’re not serving three wines, there’s no need for three wine glasses.
Order of Glasses on Table
When serving a different beverage with each course, the order of glasses on the table follows the same pattern as that of the cutlery – drink from the outermost glass each time. If you’re serving multiple courses with beverages for each course, the key issue in your table setting for dinner will be space. If there are multiple drinking glasses, the water glass is placed closest, with the other beverage glasses extending outward from the upper right in a triangle shape.
This can be elaborate or simple. For instance, you may have a juice glass, a champagne flute and/or a sherry or port glass. If the dinner will include either a red or a white wine, the arrangement will be in a triangle shape. The server will likely ask diners if they prefer red or white wine, and whichever glass is not used will be removed. If both are to be used, they are placed in a shape representative of how they will be used. According to Advanced Mixology, this could be a diamond shape for four glasses, or a straight line for five glasses, with water, champagne flute, red wine glass, white wine glass and cordial or sherry glass at the end.
If the dessert course includes a wine or other beverage, bring out these glasses with the dessert at the end of the meal rather than including them in the table setting, explains Martha Stewart. If there is a juice glass, place it above the plate along with the desert utensils, if any.
Using Glasses While Eating
One of the issues with drinking at a formal party is lipstick on a wine glass. The Know Wines blog explains that if you’re wearing lipstick, the proper thing to do is to pick one spot on the wine glass and drink from that one spot throughout the entire meal or event.
If you need to set the glass down, do so to the right of your water glass or in the upper left corner of your place setting if there is no water glass. There’s always the potential for odors from foods or odors from products used on your hands, such as hand cream, to get onto the drinking surface of the wine glass. To avoid this, hold the glass stem by pinching the stem with your thumb and index finger.
If there’s no stem, hold the glass by the base and minimize contact with the middle and top of your glass. When you’re done drinking, place your glass in the upper right of your plate near the position where it was originally. When it’s time for the next course, the server will likely ask if you’re done and remove it, and then pour the next serving.
- Emily Post: Table Setting Guide
- Advanced Mixology: How Do You Lay Out Wine Glasses? Arranging Glassware On The Table Properly
- Martha Stewart: Setting the Table 101: Your Ultimate Guide to Creating a Tablescape for Any Type of Gathering
- Know Wines: How To Hold A Wine Glass
Vanessa is an avid gardener with experience helping things grow in the three corners of the country where she has lived — Florida, Pennsylvania, and Oregon. She is also a journalist and marketing content creator who enjoys cooking and eating, both helpful hobbies for a gardener.
Autumn tables. Thanksgiving tables. Winter holiday tables. What can’t Tommy Tran do?
Our Visual Merchandising Director, Tommy, has set a lot of tables in his day. He’s always thinking of a new way to make something beautiful—without breaking a sweat. He has some lovely ideas for your winter holiday table, taking advantage of our downright gorgeous tableware, chargers, accessories and flatware. We asked him for his off-the-cuff tips to make your holiday sparklier.
1. Start with a Festive Base
Check out our holiday shop, and get inspired, because it’s best to “start with a festive base for a festive occasion,” says Tommy. “Think: Plaid or tartan chargers for a classic touch, faux bois wood for something light and bright, or a Glitter Burst charger for chic and glam.” You don’t need to buy all-new everything for the holidays, he assures us. “These can all work with your existing dinnerware and are a fun and easy way to update!”
2. Layer With Linens
Don’t want to deal with buying, storing, cleaning and breaking out a whole set of holiday plates? No problem. There’s an easy fix for you. “Another great way to update your table for the holidays is with our beautiful linens,” suggests Tommy.” That can be a runner, tablecloth or simply a set of napkins. Go jacquard for a traditional feel, tartan for a classic holiday vibe, or neutrals for a wintry calming palette.
3. Use Dinnerware to Set the Mood
Our adorable Natale reindeer plates.
In the same way that your mood at school pickup helps set the tone for your evening, “you can set the mood for any type of holiday table with your choice of dinnerware,” Tommy reminds us. “Consider Twas for elegance, Natale for a casual family breakfast, or Woodland Berry for a cozy cabin feel. Layer in a salad or dinner plate to pull the collection together.” And don’t forget how your wine glasses will look alongside everything! Do choose the right glass for the right wine. (Here’s our guide.)
4. Let There Be Light
The Festival of Lights is here.
Whether you’re celebrating The Festival of Lights (Hanukkah), Christmas, Kwanzaa or something else, “always have candles,” says Tommy. “Tapers and votives set the vibe and give great mood lighting.” He loves the way the light ripples through these candle holders. Or an antler taper holder “can set a woodland theme.”
5. Freshen Up the Table
Jeff Leatham’s gorgeous faux-floral work.
Whether it’s fresh or faux-fresh, “always have something fresh on the table,” says Tommy. “Consider garland or tabletop bouquets to bring the outdoors in and add some elegance to the table.” He’ll be placing some of celebrity florist Jeff Leatham‘s work on his table this year.
6. Make it Personal
Old-fashioned can be a very good thing.
Get people excited to sit down and make the table feel warmer and more personal. “Use individually monogrammed glassware for every guest at each setting.” (We’ve got a whole monogram shop!) “Then slip each glass into a gift bag paired with a cocktail mix and a long-handled mixing spoon for a celebratory party favor at the end of your gathering.” Nice.
7. Don’t Forget a Well-Stocked Bar
One bonus tip: Be sure to do the classic host thing and greet your guests with a drink, or an easy way to make one! “A holiday cocktail or mocktail can be the perfect way to welcome your guests to your home and your table,” says Tommy. “A festive bar cart creates an easy way for everyone to gather for a cheerful libation—whether you’re serving wine or cocktails.” Perhaps Santa is bringing you a bar cart with a big bow on it this year? Why not?