Knowing how to set the table is an art. While good company and good food are often centerstage in gatherings, a stunning table sets the tone. It also adds a touch of personality that makes a gathering stand out from a simple hang-out session with friends and family.
When I’m a host, I like to take extra time to set the table. Other than cooking, it’s a task that I genuinely enjoy the most. I get to showcase my creativity and my beautiful table place settings. Over the years, I’ve gotten many compliments and I’m proud of my table setting.
Here are all the tips and tricks I’ve learned so you can impress your guests at your next gathering.
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How to Properly Set the Table
It can be intimidating to try to set the table à la Martha Stewart if you’ve never done it before. While there are some guidelines to help you make the table look good, a gathering is about making your guests feel welcome first and foremost. Not where the little fork goes. Take the pressure off yourself. Remember, the effort and dedication you put into your table will shine through no matter what. And is something your guests will appreciate.
Properly setting your table is an art we can all learn. So, let’s dive in.
Before you start setting up, it’s good to take some time and consider the elements that will make up your table.
Let’s talk linens
Tablecloths, napkins, and runners are the backdrop of your table. They add color and texture to your setting. If you have a theme or preferred aesthetic in mind, choosing your linens is your opportunity to showcase that.
As a general guideline, your tablecloth should have an 18” overhang so it comes to the top of your guests’ laps.
Flatware – Knives, Forks, and Spoons
When it comes to flatware, whatever you put on your table should be used during your meal. For instance, if you’re not serving soup, don’t include a soup spoon. The idea is to keep things simple, to not overcrowd your table unnecessarily.
Glassware – Beverage Glasses and Wine Glasses
Your choice of drinking glasses and wine glasses can add a unique touch to your table. If you want to stand out, go for glassware with different finishes and textures, artistic shapes, or something like a golden trimming.
Serving Plates, Bread and Butter Plates, and Salad Plates
There are many types of china. If you’re looking to invest in your first set of dinnerware for hosting, I recommend going for classic white. It’s easier to mix and match with more colorful sets down the line.
Before we get into specifics, here are simple reminders.
1. Begin with a dinner plate at the center of your placemat
2. You should always place your utensils in the order you’re going to use them, from the outside in.
3. Forks go on the left side of your plate, knives (blade towards the plate) and spoons go on the right.
4. Drinking glass goes to the right, a few inches above the space between your knife and spoon (if you’re using one).
5. Place your napkin on the left side of the dinner plate for a casual setting or folded on the plate for a formal setting.
Before Meal Consideration:
In terms of dinnerware, only the service plate (also called charger) and the bread plate should be placed on the table. If you’re serving a soup or a salad, you can serve it on the charger plate. Then take everything away before the next course. Service plates are the decorative focal point to set the vibe before dinner arrives.
How to Determine Your Table Setting Type?
The answer is simple: let your meal dictate the tone of your gathering. Of course, it all comes down to your mood. But if you’re creating multiple courses, why not go all out? A more formal table setting will elevate the food experience for your guests.
Table Setting Types
To guide you in your choice, let’s go over the main ways to set the table.
Casual Table Setting
If you’re planning a meal that is more pot-luck style or an impromptu dinner, a casual table setting is perfect. No need to hunt down your special cutlery or plates. Simply follow these easy guidelines.
– Place your dinner plate in the center of your placemat.
– If you’re serving salad, put your salad plate on top of your dinner plate.
– If serving soup, place the bowl on the salad plate.
– Place the water glass above the knife.
– If serving wine, place your wine glass to the right of your glass of water.
– Place the fork on your napkin to the left of your dinner plate.
– Knife and spoon go to the right of your dinner plate.
Informal Table Setting
An informal table setting is a step above casual. It’s ideal for a simple dinner party with family and friends. One where a no-frills three-course meal is served. It follows the same guidelines as the casual place setting with these differences.
– If you’re serving salad and/or soup, place your soup on top of the salad plate and the salad plate on the dinner plate.
– Similarly, if you’re serving bread, your bread plate should be to the top left, slightly above your forks.
– Water glasses should be placed to the right of your plate, above your knife and spoons.
– All the wine glasses you’re going to use during the meal should be put to the right of the drinking glasses.
– Your dinner fork (the larger fork) should be placed to the left, closest to your plate.
– Salad fork goes to the left of your dinner fork.
– To the right of your plate, place your knife blade facing the plate.
– Place your teaspoon to the right of your knife.
– Your tablespoon should be placed right of the teaspoon.
Formal Table Setting
This is the table setting you want when you’ve cooked a fine dining-worthy meal. For holidays and celebrations where your special china needs to come out. Here’s how you can build on the basics outlined previously to take your gathering table to the next level.
– Your service plate (decorative) should be centered in front of each chair.
– Your dinner plate should only be brought out after guests are finished with your first course.
– Your glasses should be a few inches above the space in between the charger (serving plate) and dinner knife.
– Water glass first, then red wine glass, white wine glass, and champagne flute last.
– There shouldn’t be more than the number of utensils needed for 3 courses. If you’re serving a 4th course, bring your utensils along with the course.
– Place your forks next to the left of your plate. The salad fork should be placed next to the dinner fork. Then the fish fork to the farther left (if you’re using one).
– Like other table settings, place your dinner knife to the right of the charger (serving plate).
– Teaspoon and tablespoon go next.
– Oyster fork, if you’re serving oysters, go all the way to the right.
– Your butter knife should rest on top of your bread plate, diagonally with the blade facing at 10 pm.
– For a more structured meal and table setting, place your napkin on top of the dinner plate. A nicely folded napkin is also appropriate.
Decorating Tips to Elevate Your Table Settings
If you want to take your gathering to the next level, consider integrating some of these:
Flower arrangements as centerpieces. They should have low in height for visibility among guests at the table
Try a bold pattern tablecloth
Play with textures: rustic charger, bamboo cutlery, marble board, etc.
Add scented candles to your table (a little goes a long way)
Get creative with personalized name cards
Are you ready to invite people over?
I hope you take my tips and create a table to remember the next time you’re hosting. I’m curious, are you more team casual or team formal?
I’m a mix of the two!
Let me know in the comments below. I love to hear from you.