The Ultimate Guide For Table Settings

December 01, 2015
The Ultimate Guide For Table Settings

Tis the season for dinner parties, banquets, champagne ham and fun! The silly season is upon us and it’s time to get party ready! At House Of Home we realise not everyone is as experienced Emily Post in festive dinner party etiquette, so we’ve broken down in layman’s terms how to create the perfect table setting to have you prepared for Christmas Day and all the events during this year’s silly season.

Easily transferred to any occasion, find out through our hard research how to set a table for Basic, Informal or Formal events. This helpful guide isn’t just for those who want the Downton Abbey dinner experience, learning these simple tips will help to make even relaxed nightly dinners more enjoyable.

Simple Tips That Will Assist You In Setting A Table:

  1. The first golden rule for table setting is working from the left to the right.

  2. Start with an empty table, having clutter or objects like center pieces can throw off a look if not arranged in the correct order.

  3. Determine what kind of dinner event you are catering for. Ask yourself, is it formal or informal? Outdoors or indoors?

  4. Knife blades should always face towards the plate.

  5. Always move the chairs away from the table so that you are able to set it properly without being hindered.

Different Types of Dinner Place Settings:

There are 3 main types of table settings that you can modify depending on the occasion. Any table setting can be categorised under the following types, these are Casual Table Settings, Informal Table Settings and Formal Table Settings.


Basic Table Settings:


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Basic Table setting are common in homes and casual restaurants around Australia every night. It is the most common form of table place setting and the easiest to replicate as it doesn’t require loads of utensils.

Utensils for a Basic Table Setting:

  • Bowl or Single Dinner plate

  • Fork

  • Knife

  • Napkin

  • Glass

  • Smaller bread and butter plate (these are optional)

  • Butter knife

  • Soup Spoon (optional)

How to Set A Basic Table Setting:

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A Basic table setting is usually determined by the number of guest, usually 2 to 4, as well as the type of dish served.

1) Set A Plate

As the standard goes, always set a plate unless you are serving soup, which a bowl would then replace the plate.

2) Napkin

A basic setting begins on the left with a napkin

3) Knife & Fork

A Fork follows the napkin of the left side of the plate or bowl. The knife is then placed on the right of the plate, accompanied by a spoon if necessary. The knife blade always faces towards the dinner plate.

4) Bread & Butter

To complete the setting a glass is placed on the right of the plate whilst the bread and butter dish is placed on the plate.

If you are prone to forgetting which side a glass goes, Emily Post suggests touch your index fingers to your thumbs to create a ‘b’ and ‘d’ with your fingers. The ‘b’ is for the bread and butter dish, whilst the ‘d’ is for drinks!

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Informal Table Setting:


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An informal table setting is different to a casual table setting. It is commonly seen in mid-price range restaurants. It is usually set for a specific menu that includes a list of courses, such as a soup course, a salad or entrée, then a main meal followed by dessert.

Utensils Needs:

  • Plate

  • Napkin

  • 1 large Dinner Fork

  • 1 Salad Fork

  • A Knife

  • Soup Spoon

  • Soup Bowl

  • Dessert Spoon

  • Water glass

  • Wine Glass

  • Salad plate

  • Bread and Butter Plate with Knife

  • Coffee Cup and saucer (To be served after dinner)

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How To Set an Informal Table Setting:

1) Start With The Dinner Plate

This should be the first thing you place on the table. The Napkin is then placed on top on the plate for the guest to find.

2) Forks

Place the forks on the left of the plate with the Dinner Fork placed closest to the plate. The smaller Salad Fork should be placed next the dinner fork furthest from the plate. Forks and Knifes are arranged for the order of the courses. As a rule when in an informal dinner setting always start from the outer most utensils and work in.

3) Soup Bowl

The Soup bowl is placed on top of the dinner plate with the napkin laid across the centre of the bowl.

4) Dinner Knife

Is place is set on the right side of the plate with the sharp blade facing in towards the plate. Remember to change this knife to a steak knife if serving meat.

5) Spoon

Spoons are always placed on the right hand side of the Dinner Knife. Remember to place spoons in order of courses. Soup is usually served first, so place the Dessert Spoon on the right of the Dinner Knife followed by the Soup Spoon.

6) Drinking Glasses

Water glasses and wine glass are placed together on the upper right hand side of the plate above the knives and spoons. Glassware should be place in order, water glass first as this is usually what people will reach for first, followed by a wine or beer glass.

7) Salad plates

A Salad Plate is always placed on the left of the Forks if require, if a salad is served with the main meal there is no need for a second salad plate. For aesthetics, Emily Post suggests serving the salad separate if the Menu consists of runny liquids such as gravy or sauces.

8) Dessert Spoons

Either placed horizontally above the dinner plate with the handles directed to the right or beside the plate between the dinner knife and soup spoon. However these can be forgone if the chef prefers to serve dessert with a spoon or fork as it comes from the kitchen.

9) Coffee

In American table settings the coffee cup and saucers are placed on the table above and to the right of the knife on the edge of the other glassware. However in Australia it is less common to see this, so coffee is preferred selected from a tray after a meal has been completed.

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Formal Dinner Table Settings:


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A formal dinner table setting is used for menu consisting of more than three courses. This particular setting is commonly seen at degustations, weddings and holiday meals, high-end restaurants and very formal functions. It is typically similar to the informal setting however there are much utensils used as well as added glassware to be served with the different courses.

This is typically the most dramatic table setting as everything should be new in look, crisp, gleaming and clean. As this setting is used for most formal events, other inclusions are items such as table centre pieces and flower arrangements, candles, table runners as well as name or place cards.

A formal table setting requires a table cloth that hangs evenly over the table edges. The cloth should not ‘drape’ over a guests legs. It should nest just above the thighs.

This type of table setting is very strict, it should typically be symmetrical with any centre pieces or flower arrangements lining the centre of the table horizontally to the long edge. Each place setting should be placed evenly along the table and each setting should match the opposite side in line and distance from the edge of the table, so that guests are seated directly opposite each other.

Centre pieces shouldn’t be too high or crowd the table, this may prevent guest from speaking with each other and having enough space to eat unhindered. Don’t be too strict with arrangements, looser floral bouquets make for a great contrast against a strict table setting.

Remember that a formal dinner event always includes pre-meal hors d’oeuvres.

Utensils Needed for A Formal Table Setting:

  • Large Serving Plate, typically for canapés or hors d'oeuvres

  • An Under plate / Charger Plate or Place Mat

  • Butter plate

  • Dinner Fork

  • Fish Fork

  • Salad Fork

  • Dinner Knife

  • Fish Knife

  • Salad Knife

  • Soup Spoon

  • Oyster Fork

  • Butter Knife

  • Up to 5 glasses; water glass, red or white wine glass, sherry or champagne flute, dessert wine glass etc

  • Napkin

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How To Set a Formal Table Setting:

1) Place Mat

Start with the place mat, always centre the mat to the accompanying chair. The edge of the place mat should be ½ inch from the table’s edge.

2) Table Runner

Place the table runner along the centre of the table

3) Dinner Plate

Place the dinner plate in front of where the chair. The edge of each plate should be 1 inch from the edge of the table.

4) Placing the Cutlery

The handles of each piece of cutlery should be one inch from the edge of the table in line with each plate. The Largest fork, or dinner fork, should be placed to the left of the plate. The other forks should be placed alongside the dinner fork in order of the courses served from left to right. The dinner knife should be placed on the right side of the dinner plate with the blade facing towards the plate. Any knifes being used, such as a fish knife, should be placed on the right hand side of the dinner fork. Each knife should be place left to right in the order of the courses to coincide with the forks. If soup is being served, then the soup spoon is to be placed on the outer most right side of the set of knives.

5) Bread and butter plate

The bread and butter plate should be placed either above the diner plate with the knife place horizontally on the top of the plate with blade facing the centre of the plate or to the left hand side, above the forks.

6) Glasses

Glasses should be placed above the knives, with the water glass being closest to centre of the table and following glassware from the right of the water glass.

7) Soup Bowl

If soup is being served, then the soup bowl should be placed in the centre of the dinner plate.

8) Appetizer Plate

An Appetizer plate should be placed underneath the soup bowl on the centre of the dinner plate.

9) Napkin

A napkin can be placed in multiple spot in the table setting, it can be place in the centre of the dinner plate if the courses are to be brought out pre-dressed. It can also be placed horizontally on top of the soup bowl with a napkin ring, to the left of the forks or place under the forks.

10) Décor

Flower arrangements should not be higher the eye level and candles should be space evenly along the table centre to allow guests to see and speak to each other freely.

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No matter what occasion you are planning for, you should be able to find a table setting that will suit your need. In today's world it's essential to remember that there are no rules unless you state them, so be creative with your place settings and above all have fun with it, because no one wants to attend a stuffy dinner!

For more inspiration on Table settings reader our A Guide To Your Christmas Table

Shop Kitchen and Dining Inspiration Here

(Image Credit: http://blog.decoratorsnotebook.co.uk, http://4.bp.blogspot.com, https://c2.staticflickr.com, http://www.marthastewartweddings.com/, http://blog.airlie.com/, http://o.aolcdn.com/http://lilawilsonweddings.com/)