Sometimes setting the table is a last-minute, thrown-together effort by a harried host or hostess. We want to help set you up for success and avoid that table-setting stress in the future. With the proper preparation and technique, anyone can set a beautiful table. Our ultimate guide to table setting will make the process a breeze for your upcoming fetes. Read on for a basic table setup, an informal option, and a table-setting guide for formal occasions. To make things even easier, we will give you some tips and tricks for remembering these layouts. Move on over, Emily Post!

Option 1: Basic Table

utensils on napkin tied with string

We'll start with the simplest table setting and build up from there. Our basic layout is best used for everyday dinners and laid-back occasions (a boozy weekend brunch with friends, for instance). There's no need to stress over fancy glassware, folded napkins, or extra flatware at such a gathering. You're not going need a complicated setting for a quick family dinner. Here's where our basic table setup comes in.

How To Set A Basic Table

Step 1: Perfect Plating

Begin by placing any placemat you normally use at every place. This is totally optional, but there are some really cute casual placements out there, if you want to opt in. Next, place a large dinner plate in the middle of each placemat or in the middle area in front of each seat.

Step 2: Unique Utensils

There are two ways you could approach this next step. One, pictured above, involves a fork, knife, and spoon all on one napkin. Place the utensils on the right side of the plate. The other method is to position the fork and napkin on the left side of the plate and the knife and spoon on the right side. Keep in mind that the sharp edge of the knife should always face the plate. It's up to you which of these two options you use. Both are great and easy for a basic table setting.

Step 3: Wonderful Water

Next, add a water glass on the right upper side of the plate, above the knife. You may also add a bread plate and butter knife on the upper left side of the plate at this time, depending on what you plan to eat.

Step 4: Custom Creation

If you're serving soup or something of the sort, add a bowl to each place setting. Include a small saucer under each soup bowl as well as a soup spoon if you have one. Tailor this laid-back approach to the dish and vibe you are creating, and you've completed your basic table setup!

Option 2: Informal Table

flat lay of informal table setting

Our next level of table setting is called informal or casual. It can be used for a dinner party or luncheon occasion. Bridal showers or baby showers are just a couple other examples of occasions where this setting would be a good fit.

How To Set An Informal Table

Step 1: Basic Plus

For an informal setting, you'll want to start with the basic setup: placemats, dinner plates, utensils, bread plates, and water glasses. Be sure to place the fork on the left side and the knife and spoon on the right for this setting; the cute option of all utensils on one napkin is no longer appropriate.

Step 2: Nice Napkin

Place a cloth napkin on top of each dinner plate. It can be folded in a fun, unique way or just into a neat rectangle. This is a noteworthy departure from the napkin on the side in the basic table setup.

Step 3: Salad + Soup Success

It is likely that a luncheon or dinner party will include a soup or a salad. If your party will, include a smaller salad fork on the far left side of the setting as well as a round soup spoon on the far right side of the setting. Plus, you'll want to add a small bowl on top of the napkin on the larger dinner plate; the salad plate goes to the left of the forks. Keep in mind that if you're choosing to serve soup, a flat, rectangular napkin is preferable.

Step 4: Final Touches

Last, add a butter spreader on top of the bread plate, which should be above the forks. A coffee mug and saucer can be added to the top right of the setting, to the right of the water glass. If wine is being served, add a wine glass between the water glass and coffee mug in the top right area of the setting. Now you're all "set" for a mid-level casual event!

Option 3: Formal Table

white tablecloth and formal place setting

And now for the most challenging table setup, a formal table setting. This would be appropriate for a formal dinner party, holiday celebration, charity fundraiser, wedding, or similar event. We will continue to build off of the first two setting guides for our final result, a properly set formal table.

How To Set A Formal Table

Step 1: Setup Success

Begin by adding a white or your choice of tablecloth to the table. Then set the table for an informal occasion: add a dinner plate to the middle of each place, place a napkin on top, and add water and wine glasses on the top right. Make sure the utensils are properly aligned, the small salad fork and fork on the left with the knife, spoon, and soup spoon on the right. The butter plate and butter spreader should be on the top left.

Step 2: Small Changes

For a formal setting, do not add a coffee cup and saucer; they will be brought out after dinner and offered to guests at that time. Additionally, be sure to add a charger below each dinner plate. Place the salad plate on top of the dinner plate with the napkin on top in the middle of the setting; the napkin can also be placed to the far left of the forks. Make sure the butter utensil is horizontal over the bread plate.

Step 3: Gorgeous Glassware

For stemware, make sure that the water glass is closest to the guest; it should be on the top right of the setting. Next to the right will be a red wine glass, with the white wine glass slightly ahead of it and farther to the right. See below for a helpful diagram:

diagram of formal table setting

Step 4: Dessert Delight

Finally, for a formal place setting, add small dessert forks or knives above the middle of the dinner plate. Place cards may be added above the dessert utensils. Another cool option is to add a port or dessert wine glass to the top right of the setting.

Tips To Remember

Now that you know how to set a table for three types of occasions, let's discuss some time-saving tips to make this process foolproof.

  • Remember that the utensils should be placed in alphabetical order from left to right: F=fork, K=knife, S=spoon.
  • Since guests will (hopefully) be consuming more water than wine while dining, the water glass should be closest to the guest on the top right of the setting.
  • You only need to set the table with utensils you will actually be using; if there's no soup, then do not include a soup spoon. That will make it less confusing for everyone and save you some time.
  • Here's a trick to determine where the bread plate and water glass should be placed: if you stick your pinkies up and use the four other fingers to form a round shape, your left and right hands will make a lowercase b and d. Since your left hand makes a b, that's where the bread plate goes. And since the right hand makes a d, that's where the drink glass should be placed.
  • Utensils should be placed in the order in which they will be used from the outside in. For example, the salad fork goes to the left of the main course fork, while the soup spoon goes to the right of the regular spoon.

We hope you now feel empowered to host a dinner party to your tastes. Our tips for basic settings, informal settings, and formal settings are sure to set you up for continued success. Happy entertaining!

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