Ultimate Guide to Setting a Table

Setting the table used to be common knowledge for people before. However, in the modern times that we have today, setting the table properly has become like a party trick. It’s because most of us no longer set the table well if there are no events. With this, when we do set the table, most of us are possibly not following all the traditional rules for an appropriate table setting. It is also true that many people today have never even learned how a table should really be set. Therefore, when hosting a party, you should ensure that you hire servers who have gone through proper training as per CA Assembly Bill 1221.

There are many special occasions when you want to set the table so elegant to amaze your guests. These may include Thanksgiving, birthdays, Christmas, or simple family reunions. When those times come, it is better that to be knowledgeable about different table settings. This way, you’ll be able to set the table for any occasion, whether it is a basic, semi-formal, or formal table setting. If you want to learn more about it, read on as we’re giving you the ultimate guide to setting the table. 

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Table Setting Elements

a basic table setting

Before you set the table, you first need to learn about the essential items that should be present on your table. Basically, these include china, glassware, flatware, linens, and other decorative elements. These components may or may not be all used at every event. To give you some ideas, here are the important items that you need to set the table properly:

Serving Plates, Salad Plates, Bread and Butter Plates

There are many different types of plates out there, which makes it challenging to select ones that you truly need. When setting the table, it is generally a good idea to stick with basic white plates. You can also opt for a white plate that has a small single-color band or seal, as this looks elegant and will allow you to mix and match with other china and linens. 

The needed pieces of your settings include large dinner plates, salad or dessert plates, bread and butter plates, cups and saucers, and soup or pasta bowls with underliners. Also, if you have unique pieces of china, then you can also use them as a centerpiece on your table. You can design them with fresh herbs or place finger desserts on them. 

Glassware (Goblets and Beverage Glasses)

To enhance a table setting, you can use goblets, pitchers, cordials, and rock glasses decoratively. It is also very important that all the glassware is clean and spot-free to provide an extra shine and sparkle on the table. You can also use glassware for other enhancements, such as using different heights, mixing colors and textures, or presenting them in a fascinating way to enhance the appeal of your table setting.

Flatware (Forks, Spoons, Knives)

The flatware is set depending on the menu you will be serving. For theme buffets like picnics, the flatware can be dressed up by rolling each of them in a napkin and tying them using a ribbon or raffia. You can also place them in a suitable container and placed them in each setting. For guests, the simple rule to follow when choosing the right flatware is to start with the farthest utensil and work inward toward the plate. 

Linens (Napkins, Tablecloths, Runners)

When choosing tablecloths, runners, and napkins, you can have some fun by adding color and texture to your table setting. For example, a tablecloth does not only protect the table but also serves as an effective way to add style and enhance the appeal of your table. 

You can also present table napkins in different ways through clever folding techniques. Traditionally, they are placed to the left of the plate but can also be accordion folded and tucked into the coffee cup or beverage glass. You can also lay the napkin flat underneath the service plate. 

You can also read the following articles for more information about table linens:

How to Set a Basic Table

a lovely casual table setting

Setting a basic table is probably something that you’ve learned as a kid and referenced whenever you try to remember which side the knife should be placed on. Here are the steps to can follow to set a basic table.

Step 1: Lay the tablecloth or placemat on the table.

Step 2: Position the dinner plate centered in front of the chair. 

Step 3: Fold a napkin to whatever style you want, then lay it to the left of the plate. It can also be placed on top of the plate if you wish. 

Step 4: Put the fork on the left side of the plate. If you put a napkin there, the for should be on top of the napkin.

Step 5: Add the knife first to the right of the plate closest to it. Ensure that the blade of the knife is facing toward the plate. 

Step 6: Place the spoon next to the knife. 

Step 7: On the top right, place the water glass. It should be a few inches above the space between the plate and the knife. 

Step 8: This one is an optional step. Put the bread plate on the top left, which is a few inches above the fork. Then, place a butter knife on top of the plate. Make sure that it is laying diagonal with the blade facing 10pm on a clock. If you are serving salad or soup, their plates should go on top of the dinner plate, and the soup bowl should be on top of that. 

How to Set a Casual Table

A casual table setting is perfect for a simple get-together or a laid-back dinner party. It is quite similar to the basic table setting, but a soup bowl and a dinner plate are added. As an overall rule, only set tableware, flatware, and glassware that you will be using. For example, if you are not going to serve salad, then all you need is a dinner fork. If you are serving a white wine, then do not set a red wine glass on the table. If there is no soup, you can skip the soup bowl and spoon. 

Here are some helpful instructions that you can follow on how to set a casual table:

Step 1: First, lay the placemat on the table and put the dinner plate in the middle of it.

Step 2: Put the salad plate on top of the dinner plate. 

Step 3: If you are going to begin with a soup course, you can put the soup bowl on the upper part of the salad plate. 

Step 4: Place the napkin to the left side of the plate, then put the fork on the napkin. 

Step 5: Put the knife closest to the plate on the right side, then put the spoon beside it. 

Step 6: Above the knife, put the water glass. 

Step 7: Slightly above the water glass to the right, place the wine glass or another glass for drinks.

How to Set a Formal Dinner Table

a formal table setting

For elegant and formal dinner parties and events, you need to learn how to set a table that is for a three-course meal. The main difference between a formal dinner table from a casual dinner table is the use of chargers or presentation plates. Also, a formal table setting includes more pieces, such as chargers, tablecloth, dinner plates, salad plates, soup bowls, salad forks, dinner forks, soup spoons, knives, butter knives, dessert spoons, napkins, water glasses, red wine glasses, and white wine glasses. 

Setting a formal dinner table may sound overwhelming for some, but it is easy if you know how to set a casual table. Here are some steps that you can follow:

Step 1: Place an ironed tablecloth on the table.

Step 2: Arrange a charger for each seat.

Step 3: Put a soup bowl in the center of the charger. 

Step 4: On the top left of the charger, place the bread plate. 

Step 5: Place a table napkin to the left of the charger. After that, place the salad fork on the outside and the dinner fork on the inside. The forks can be placed directly on the napkin, but if you wish for a spacious setting, then you can place them directly on the tablecloth between the napkin and the charger. 

Step 6: Place the knife closest to the charger on the right side along with the soup spoon. Remember that all vertical flatware such as dinner fork, salad fork, soup spoon, and knife should be spaced evenly, around half an inch apart from each other. Also, the bottoms of each utensil need to be aligned with the bottom of the charger. 

Step 7: The butterknife should be placed horizontally, with its blade facing inwards on top of the bread plate and its handle pointing to the right. 

Step 8: The dessert spoon or a teaspoon should be placed directly above the charger, with its handle pointing to the right. 

Step 9: The water glass should be placed directly above the knife. To its right, and about three-fourths of an inch downwards, the white wine glass is placed. The red wine glass, on the other hand, should be placed on the right of the white wine glass, slightly above it. Always keep the water glass near the diner or guest. 

Step 10: If you are using individual salt and pepper shakers for each of your guests, you can place them above the dessert spoon. If not, you can plate them near the center of the table. Place cards should be placed above the dessert spoon. 


At first, setting the table may seem like a challenging task. But when you get the basics of it, it is easy to turn your table into different settings. You can also mix and match different styles of plates, glassware, flatware, tablecloths, and table napkins, depending on the occasion. We hope this helped you learn more about setting the table. If you need more information related to this, you can click on the following links for helpful articles: