How To Set a Proper Table

Since this blog is all about tablescapes, I thought that we would take a step back and start with the basics, “How To Set a Proper Table”. 

It is often said that we eat with our eyes and I don’t think that just starts with the food. I think the table setting sets the mood for the meal as well.

I realize that life is so busy these days and many people eat on the go or in front of the TV when you get home after a long day; but when you have the time, it’s great to slow down and share a meal with the people you care about.

Below are some of the “old school” rules for setting a proper table.

place-setting-informal- INFORMAL

The informal setting is pretty basic and I am sure this is how many of you already set your table for a lot of occasions.

For an informal setting or lunch, I use placemats at every place setting, or nothing at all (Tablecloths are optional). If you don’t use a placemat, make sure the plate is set two inches from the edge of the table and it is placed so that it centers the chair.

The forks go on the left and the spoon and knives are on the right of the plate.The spoon will be on the outside and the knife on the inside with the blade facing the plate. Just in case you forget this order, just take the advice of my son when he was very young setting the table….I kept asking him if remembered where everything went and he turned around and said, “Yes, I remember, it’s alphabetical left to right”. I have to admit that this was something I never thought of myself and I was amazed that he did at such a young age.

If you are serving a salad or soup then a salad fork is placed on the outside of the dinner fork further to the left. The same principal applies for a soup spoon, on the outside of the dinner spoon further to the right. Teaspoons to the right of the dinner knife.

Flatware is set up by course, so use the flatware from the “outside to the inside” left and right and work towards the plate as the meal progresses. The flatware should align with the bottom rim of the dinner plate.

Dessert forks and spoons are brought out when you serve dessert.

The napkin is placed under the forks, or in the middle of the place setting.

Place salt and pepper shakers are usually placed between two place settings. If someone asks you to pass the salt, pass the pepper as well. The pair should always travel together.  (Little extra info – since most people use salt than pepper (and most people are right handed), the salt shaker is placed to the right of the pepper shaker, in a position closer to the right hand).

Water glasses are always above the knife and to the right of the dinner plate and the wine glass is to it’s right.

Pretty easy and basic enough and now we move on.

placesetting- formal with champagne - FORMAL

 Then we have the formal table setting where the informal setting rules still apply but now we have more glassware, plates and flatware to deal with. This setting is usually used for holidays and special occasion like a wedding. 

Food is served from the left

Dishes are removed from the right.

For a formal setting I would definitely use a cloth tablecloth, cloth napkins and a charger plate at every place setting. A charger, or presentation plate (also called service plate),  is purely a decorative over-sized plate (usually 13 inches) used to add color, texture or pattern to the table. I use chargers all the time because I like the look it adds to the table. It makes your dinnerware really stand out. Charger plates range in price depending on the material it is made of. I have a mix of inexpensive and expensive chargers (such as mirror or glass) and alternate them depending on the holiday.

Food is never served directly on a charger, but a first course soup bowl or salad plate can be set on a charger. The charger plates should be cleared from the table along with any soup bowl or salad plate before serving the main course.

(I have to admit that there are certain holidays that I keep the charger plates out during the entire meal because I just love how it brightens up the table. Yes, I know, I broke a rule but I had to tell you the truth).

We also introduce the bread and butter plate and butter spreader with a formal place setting. The bread plate sits above the dinner plate to the left and the spreader is placed diagonally over the plate. 

Place napkins to the left of the forks if there’s room on the table; otherwise, you can place them under the forks, or position them on the charger.

Dessert forks and spoons are usually placed on the table before the meal, directly above the place setting, positioned horizontally. Make sure that the fork tine’s are set facing Right and the spoon’s bowl is facing Left, and the fork is closer to the place setting than the spoon. 

Depending on how many different wines are being served, wine glasses should be placed above the knives to the right of the water glass, and then follow in the order for which they will be used, working from left to right.

For glassware follow this rule:

Water – Champagne – White Wine- Red Wine – Dessert Wine

When dessert is served, all wineglasses (except dessert-wine glasses), bread plates, and salt and pepper shakers should be cleared from the table. Dessert flatware can either be set above the dinner plate or charger at the initial table setting as mentioned above, or it can be carried in on a tray at dessert time, along with coffee cups and saucers. Water glasses remain on the table for the duration of the meal. 

 But there is one thing that still bothers me. I am so limited with my knowledge of the glassware rules, other than the basic rule that the water glasses are always above the knife and to the right of the dinner plate followed by the wines glasses to the right of the water glass.

Glassware becomes very confusing when you start to serve multiple wines and you don’t know what glasses are for what beverage. I did a little research on and this is what I discovered…

Which glasses go with what drinks…   


2 thoughts on “How To Set a Proper Table

  1. Suzanne Voisich

    Excellent instructions, Diane. I was taught this by a woman who used to work on Old Westbury estates when I was a teenager, but always forget a lot. Now I have it all written down for me! A perfect idea for your blog!

    Liked by 1 person


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