To set a table

If you’re anything like me, you made it well into adulthood before coming to the realization that you are tragically lacking when it comes to the art of setting the table, something that was considered a basic life skill in our parents’ generation.

What you’ll learn:

  1. Why it’s important that I know how to set the table?
  2. What are the different parts of a table setting?
  3. What are the different types of tablecloths?
  4. How to set a table for casual / everyday meals
  5. How to set a table for informal/semi-formal dining
  6. How to set a table for a formal meal

I can’t be the only one who has had this experience. You are looking forward to hosting a dinner party at your home. You have meticulously planned the menu. You have cleaned your home thoroughly. You’ve even curated a Spotify playlist of 35 tracks carefully designed to be enjoyable, familiar, stimulating and unobtrusive. You have so much of this evening planned down to the smallest detail.

Until it’s time to actually set the table. At this point, you’ll find yourself staring blankly at your dishes for a few seconds, starting to feel an anxiety form in your stomach, and quietly panicking when you realize you have no idea which plate or dessert spoon goes where . Not only that, you have no idea how to do any of it either to look good . The clock is ticking and you are now hastily scouring the internet for tips and tricks.

Except even the internet doesn’t help because there is just so much information out there. Where do you even start? If you Google "how to set a table," you’ll likely come across dozens of configurations for a formal table setting, a casual table setting, a holiday table setting and special occasion table setting. Bread plate, dinner plate, soup bowl . it’s enough to make your head spin and make you seriously fret about your salad fork.

It happened to me. And once I fought my way down the internet table setting rabbit hole, I came out the other side with the skills necessary to make my dinner party a hit, as well as a stronger appreciation for everything that goes into setting a dinner table.

Let’s make it simple. We’re going to give you table setting 101, and we’re going to lay it all out in a really simple, easy to understand article that covers different table setting options to suit your needs. Together, we can make your dinner party one to remember.

1. Why it’s important to know how to set the table?

If you tend to be the more pragmatic person in your social circle, you may be asking yourself this question. Why is this even a thing? Aren’t etiquette conventions outdated relics of a bygone era with no real practical use? Wouldn’t it be easier if we all stacked our eating utensils in the middle of the table and brought them out as needed?

The practical aspect of setting the table

First, let’s address the notion that etiquette has no practical use. This is largely wrong. Yes, there are a few conventions that seem completely arbitrary these days, but there are also a large number of rules (especially related to table setting, which we’ll get to in a moment) that were specifically designed as such Solutions to Real Problems.

The rules we’re about to get into have been collectively agreed upon as they relate to how we feed ourselves. For example: arranging utensils on the table in a way that is consistent with the usual order of use and maximizes ease of access and use.

The butter knife doesn’t get put there just because someone decided it had to be that way.

It’s not these things have Doing it a certain way – there are methods that have been proven to improve the dining experience for guests.

The aesthetic aspect of setting the table

Second, let’s think about what it would look like if we actually stacked all our utensils together and just picked them up one by one as needed. Imagine what the table would look like – a haphazard, scattered mess, with no care or thought. We are better than that.

When we set our table, we are essentially designing the experience of our guests. We show them that we care about making this evening special for them by making dinner delicious and Aesthetically pleasing. Festive table decorations set the tone for the evening as does your lighting and background music.

Simply put, by putting effort into your table decorations, you are sending a message. You say, "I care about you. It is important to me that you feel comfortable. It is important to me that you feel comfortable." And isn’t it nice to say that to someone you’ve invited into your home?

2. What are the different parts of a table setting?

Before we get into how to set a table, let’s get familiar with the different elements that make up our table settings.

Tablecloths, placemats and placemats / serving plates

If you really want your table decor to stand out, you can use a tablecloth to set an initial layer of color and texture. Of course, this is absolutely not necessary – many people do without it altogether. But if you want to upgrade the look of your table or create a special mood for a particular party, a tablecloth is a good place to start.

Placemats can be used in many table settings, both as decoration and to protect the table itself. However, some may forgo them altogether in favor of place settings (decorative serving dishes on which the smaller plates are placed).

Tableware and cutlery

If you’re one of those people who Google "how to set a table," you’re probably thinking mostly about the large amount of utensils you have to deal with. Your brain can go crazy with ideas about a dozen different types of forks you need to learn to place, and a daunting amount of spoons in different sizes.

We are here to reassure you. It is easier than you think.

Most commonly, a cutlery set includes a dinner knife, dinner fork, soup spoon, dessert spoons, dessert knives, dessert forks and a teaspoon. And that may sound like a lot. But one important rule to internalize here is that you only use utensils that will actually be used. If soup is not on the menu? Let’s skip the soup spoon then. Once you see things through that lens, everything seems less daunting and overwhelming.

It should go without saying, but when you have people over, you really want to bring out the "big guns" in terms of quality. If you have a particularly impressive set of cutlery (z really good steak knives ) This is their time to shine.

plates and glasses

Plates, cups, bowls, saucers, platters and other types of serving pieces. Glassware includes wine glasses as well as water goblets. Of course, the same principle applies as before: if you don’t use it, leave it out.

Depending on the mood of your gathering, you may want to either keep things elegant with a uniform look or get eclectic by mixing and matching your plates.

Extras and decoration

These are the essential elements, but you can continue to build on them by adding a few additional items. For example, the salt and/or pepper shaker can come into play. If you have room, you can include a decorative centerpiece or bring in some greenery. Once you have the basic table set up, it’s up to you whether you want to keep it simple or continue to build on the foundation.

3. What are the different types of table settings?

Depending on how detailed you want to go, depending on the occasion and festivity, there may be only two or up to half a dozen types of table decorations. For the purposes of this article, however, we’ll divide them into three types of table settings that should roughly cover all common dining scenarios.

In order of increasing verbosity, these are:

  • Casual table decorations / everyday table decorations
  • Informal table decorations / semi-formal table decorations
  • Formal table decorations

Let’s dive into each.

4. How to set a table for casual / everyday dining

A set table does not have to be synonymous with an elaborate dinner party. The casual/everyday table setting is an extremely simple, straightforward and practical configuration that you’ve probably set hundreds of times without even realizing you’re doing it. All it needs is a placemat, silverware, a dinner plate, a drinking or wine glass, and a napkin. This is a framework for a simple, no-frills meal at home.

Let’s talk about FORKS. No, I don’t mean the utensils, but the FORKS rule. It is a simple visualization tool to remember the order in which utensils should be arranged based on ease and comfort.

Remember the word "forks". The order of the letters corresponds to the order of the items on the table. F is for fork, which should be on the left (since that’s the hand we hold it with … remember what we said before about etiquette reflecting practicality?).

The O stands for the plate. The K means knife and S means spoon. This applies to all of these table settings, including those with multiple knives and forks.

Center your plate on the placemat and then a napkin about 2.5 inches to the left of the plate. Then follow the FORK rule for setting the elements: The dinner fork goes on the napkin, then comes the plate, then to the right of the plate is the dinner knife (the blade should always point to the plate). The spoon goes to the right of the knife, and your drinking glass should be above and to the right of the plate.

Since these types of meals don’t usually involve multiple courses, this is all you need to do.

5. How to set a table for informal / semi-formal dining

This is closer to what you probably had in mind when you decided to research how to set a table. The informal/semi-formal place setting is like an expanded, more elaborate version of the casual/everyday place setting that includes some additional elements.

If you are hosting a birthday party, semi-formal holiday party, or simply inviting friends over to celebrate the joy of our fleeting existence, this is probably the table decoration you will end up choosing.

Start again by putting down your placemat and then centering your dinner plate on it. If you eat salad, the salad plate should be directly in the middle on the salad plate. If you are eating soup, the soup bowl should be on top of the salad plate.

The napkin can be placed to the left of the plate, as with the previous place setting, or it can be placed on top of the dinner plate. Follow the FORK rule: from left to right, it’s forks, then plates, then knives, then spoons. When you serve salad, the salad fork should be to the left of the menu fork.

Think of it this way: The "main" cutlery should always remain closest to the dinner plate, as it is used for the main dish.

As for glasses: your drinks should always be on your right side. Your water glass should be right in front of the knife with its tip pointed directly at it. Your wine glass should be angled to the right and slightly above the water glass.

As each course is finished, take away the utensils and plates used and gradually remove yourself until only the dinner plate is left, along with the main cutlery set.

6. How to set a table for a formal meal

Diagram of elaborate formal table settings

This is the big one! (And that’s why we added the helpful diagram) But it doesn’t actually have to be that scary. Just like before, this is just an extension of the previous table setting. Let’s talk about what sets the formal dining room apart from others.

It’s common for formal diners to forgo placemats altogether in favor of place settings. They also usually consist of more courses, so more plates and cutlery. These things contribute appear So much more complex and complicated, but it’s really not that different.

Sometimes formal dinners include a plate of bread and butter. In this case, the bread plate should be placed diagonally to the top left, and the butter knife should be laid out horizontally on it.

Since formal dinners usually include dessert, a dessert spoon (or cake fork) is placed horizontally directly above the plate. Their horizontal position conveys that they should be used after the main course.

The plate itself should be placed on a place setting, and on top of that is a salad plate that itself supports a soup bowl (these are optional items that may not be at every formal dinner). Like a nesting doll situation, but with plates.

As for the placement of cutlery, the FORK rule still applies: forks on the left, then the plate, then knives, then spoons. The salad fork should go to the outer edge while the main fork stays closest to the plate. The same is true on the right with knives and spoons.

And there you have it.

See? It’s really not as intimidating as it first seems to. And maybe serve more courses or make slight changes to the table settings we presented here. But the core concepts should apply throughout. Finally, these table arrangement rules are based on how we eat, not the other way around.

A dinner party is a joyous occasion, and your guests are sure to have a great time regardless of what you do in terms of table decorations. But if you take it a step further, incorporate decorative elements and follow these etiquette conventions, you’ll make it clear to your guests how important they are to you, and make your dinner party an absolute hit.

What now?

Now that you know how to set the perfect table for any occasion, you may be wondering what food to cook. Don’t worry, Dalstrong’s cooking blog has you covered.

Among the many tips and recipes you will find;

Check out Dalstrong’s steak knives today

ALL Dalstrong knives come with a 120-day money-back guarantee!

Written by Jorge Farah

Jorge was born on the coast of Colombia and lives in Buenos Aires. He is an avid cook and obsessed with kitchen utensils and has a tremendous amount of opinions.

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