Tips for Setting a Dining Table

Setting the table has always been a hurried, last-minute task when it comes to serving everyday meals. Sometimes, it doesn’t have to be done if you eat takeout regularly. In today’s busy world where eating in front of the TV has become a norm, it’s easy to forget how to set a nice dining table and the proper placement of cutlery and tableware. Knowing how to set the table properly has now become a party “skill.” If you’re going to host an intimate Thanksgiving dinner with friends or throwing a baby shower luncheon, impress your guests and improve your party hosting skills by learning the ways to create a proper table setting.

In case you don’t know, or if you’ve learned it but forgotten about it, here’s how to set a dining table:

Basic Table Setting

Basic Table Setting

The basic table setting is appropriate for most occasions and casual events where you just need to add the basics: the placemat, dinner plate, cutlery, water glass, and napkin.


1. Lay placemat on the table.

2. Put the dinner plate in the middle.

3. Place napkin to the left side of the plate.

4. Place the fork on top of the napkin.

5. On the right side of the plate, place the knife close to the plate with the sharp edge facing the plate. Then place the spoon next to it, on the outer right side. Level the bottoms of the utensils with the bottom of the plate.

6. Place the glass of water slightly above the plate, in the space between the plate and the knife.

Note: You may place the napkin on top of the plate, instead of placing it beneath the fork.

Casual / Informal Luncheon or Dinner Table Setting

If you’re tasked to host a casual party serving lunch or dinner, knowing how to set the table is a skill that will come in handy. This table setting brings in more cutlery and dinnerware, depending on the number of meal courses you’re going to serve. On a casual dinner plate, you need the things present in a basic table setting plus a wine glass, soup bowl, soup spoon, salad plate, and salad fork.


1. Follow instructions in making a basic table setting.

2. Place the salad plate on top of the dinner plate.

3. If you’re serving soup, place the soup bowl on top of a salad plate.

4. Place the salad fork to the left of the dinner fork.

5. Place the soup spoon to the right of the dinner spoon.

6. Place the wine glass or extra glass for another beverage to the right slightly above the water glass.

Note: If you’re placing salt and pepper shakers for each guest, add them to the top of the placemat. Otherwise, place it near the center of the table, if your table is small. But if your table is long and rectangular, place them in the middle of each end.

Formal Table Setting

If you’re hosting an elegant dinner party and you want to serve a three- to tofive-course meal, a formal table setting will be the best presentation. Perhaps you have a very important guest (as important as the President or the Duke or Dutchess of Cambridge) or you simply want to get classy, you need to learn how to set up a formal table setting. The difference it has with the two earlier types of table setting is that it forgoes the use of a placemat and uses charger plate underneath to create a formal look. Charger plates are also known as presentation plates, and they tend to add glamour and elegance to the table.

A formal table setting includes many different pieces such as a charger, dinner plate, soup bowl, salad plate, bread plate, dinner spoon and fork, salad fork, soup and dessert spoon, dinner and butter knife, napkin, water glass, red wine glass, and white wine glass. This may sound a lot, but good thing it’s just easy to make.


1. Place an ironed tablecloth on the table. Yes, a formal table must have a tablecloth placed in it.

2. Place a charger in the center of each person’s place setting.

3. Place the soup bowl at the center of the charger.

4. Lay a napkin on the left side of the charger.

5. On top of the napkin, place a salad fork on the outmost left and a dinner fork near the charger plate.

6. Place the bread plate to the top left of the charger, around the 10-11 o’clock angle.

7. Place the butter knife horizontally across the bread plate, with the sharp edge facing down and the handle pointing to the right.

8. Place the dinner knife on the right side closest to the charger, with the sharp edge facing towards the charger. Place the dinner spoon next to it, then the soup spoon on the outmost right. Remember that all flatware must be spaced evenly, placed half an inch away from each other. Level the bottoms of the utensils with the bottom of the charger.

9. Place the dessert spoon or teaspoon directly above the charger, withe th the handle pointing the right.

10. Put the water glass directly above the dinner knife. On the right side of the water glass, about ¾ inch downwards, place the white wine glass. Then place the red wine glass to the right of the white wine glass, on a place slightly above it.

11. If you’re using a place card, place it directly above the dessert spoon.


  • If you’re placing salt and pepper shakers for each guest, place it above the dessert spoon.
  • Instead of placing the napkin on the left side of the charger, you can place it on top of the plates (if you’re not serving soup), or in between the layers of plates.
  • After the soup course is complete, a salad plate will take the soup bowl’s position. If you don’t want to clear the tables after the soup course to serve dinner plates, you can just place a dinner plate on top of the charger.

Tips for Hosting a Sit-Down Dining Party

Instead of having a casual family-style dinner where food is passed on and served on a platter, hosting a formal sit-down party is perfect for special occasions. Once you decide to host these kinds of parties wherein you need to set up dining table settings, here are some of the tips to keep in mind:

1. Unless you’re doing some form of catering, it’s best to keep the guest list small, especially when hosting formal dinners. It would perhaps be impractical to prepare table settings for each guest if they are too many.

2. For formal get-togethers that need a touch of elegance, table linens are very handy. You can leave your table as it is with a very casual party, but your table needs some dressing up for a fancy party. The color and style you pick can help set the mood or the theme of your party. Fabrics are also sound absorbers, so it can make your dinner table more intimate.

Tips for Hosting a Sit-Down Dining Party

3. To avoid the awkward “where should I sit” moments for your guests, use place cards and assign their seats. Try to disperse chatty friends around the table/s to even out the dinner conversation.

4. Getting the right kind of china, dinnerware and flatware is half the job. Choose the kind of china that best suits the type of food your family loves. If you want to be safe and you know you’d be serving different kinds of foods, getting white china is best. White makes any food look good as it doesn’t conflict or contrast with the color of the food. Choose something with a color or pattern that’s easy to match (think of your available table linens, too). But if you want to make a statement using your choice of plates, bowls, and glasses, then there’s no one stopping you.

5. The basic rule when it comes to placing utensils is to place them in the order of use, from the outside in. Place the first thing your guest will use (like the salad fork and soup spoon) on the outermost side. Forks typically go to the left of the plate, while knives and spoons are placed on the right. Only place the utensils according to the courses you’re going to serve. If you’re not serving any soup, then don’t place a soup spoon.

6. Fill water glasses at the table before your guests arrive. Also, make sure that a pitcher is nearby for easy refills.

7. Always keep a salt and pepper shaker on the table for your guests. Either serve them individually or place a couple of them on the table wherein it can be at reach by all.

8. You can choose dessert dishes that have a different style and weight from the rest of your china to make it an accent of its own.

9. When it comes to glasses, the water glass must be placed directly above the dinner knife. The white wine glass must be placed directly to the right of it. If you’re also serving red wine, its glass must sit either in between the water and white wine glass or at the right side of the white wine glass. The thing to remember is that these must form a triangle. If you’re only serving water and one type of wine, keep the water glass above the dinner knife and put the other glass to the right slightly above the water glass.

10. Napkin placement is totally dependent on your preference. It may be placed underneath the forks, on the center of the dinner plate, underneath the plate on top of the charger, or directly to the left of the forks. You can simply fold them to rectangles or give it some fancy folds to add a little design and personality.

11. Centerpieces help set the mood and anchor the theme of your party. Fresh flowers are always nice, but remember to keep them in a reasonable size. You don’t want a flowery bush that’s too thick or too tall that it becomes hard to see and talk with each other. Candles are also great, but make sure it isn’t too tall. It’s also best to keep it unscented since people have different sensitivities when it comes to scents. Other centerpieces like a painted pumpkin, a bowl filled with decorative balls, or a bowl of fresh fruit can also be used.

13. If you’re serving coffee or tea, use either fancy French china or down-to-earth mugs to set a specific mood. Leave your coffee cups and saucers off the table and let your guests wait to bring them in with the desert. There’s a probability that not all will drink coffee or tea after the meal, so it’s one piece of glass or china to worry about washing or getting broken (for that matter). As you serve coffee, make sure you also serve sugar and creamer on the table.

14. Before serving dessert, clear the table of all the dishes and used flatware, as well as extra glasses and the salt and pepper shakers.