Proper Table Settings

Proper Table Settings

When it comes to proper table settings, you have three main options from which to choose. The first is the basic table setting, which applies to your everyday family meal or a casual lunch with a few friends.

The second is the informal place setting, which is your go-to for dinner table settings when you're serving an informal, three-course meal. The third is the formal place setting, which is the table setting you use for meals that have more than three courses, such as the all-out dinner or holiday celebration.

All three dinner table settings use a different number of utensils, although you'll find they all follow the same pattern:

  • Forks are placed to the left of the plate.
  • Knives and spoons are placed to the right of the plate, with knives always nearest the plate.
  • You only set out the utensils you're actually going to use.

The third point is why you'll find far fewer utensils for the everyday family meal, that typically uses a fork, spoon and knife, than you will for the formal place setting for a meal that has multiple courses.

Basic Table Settings

The basic table setting consists of a plate, napkin, glass and three utensils. They are:

  • Fork
  • Knife
  • Spoon

If your family has bread and butter or dinner rolls with your meal, you can include an optional bread plate and butter knife.

As noted above, the fork is placed to the left of the plate, and the knife and spoon are placed to the right of the plate. The knives are always closest to the plate, with their blade facing the plate, while the spoons are on the outer edges to the right.

If using a bread plate, it's placed above the main plate to the left. The glass is placed above the main plate to the right. The napkin is placed to the left of the fork on the table if there's room. Otherwise, you can place it beneath the fork or on top of the plate.

A quick way to remember the bread plate goes on left and the glass goes on the right is to use your right hand and left hand as reminders. Hold up your hands with the backs of the hands facing you.

Circle your index finger to meet the thumb of each hand while keeping the other fingers straight. Your left hand will create a lowercase letter "b," for bread. Your right hand will create a lowercase letter "d," for drinks. Voila!

Informal Table Settings

Informal table settings are used for three-course meals, with the courses consisting of a salad or appetizer, main entrée and dessert. If soup is on the menu, it's served before the three courses begin. With soup, this table setting consists of a dinner plate, salad plate, napkin, glass and five to seven utensils. The utensils are:

  • Two forks: Salad fork and dinner fork, with optional dessert fork
  • Knife
  • Two spoons: Soup spoon and dinner spoon, with optional dessert fork

Because place settings are meant to make eating the meal easier, the utensils are arranged in the order in which they're used. That means the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork, since you'll be eating salad before the entrée. Likewise, the soup spoon goes to the right of the dinner spoon, since you'll be eating soup before the entrée as well.

Since you eat dessert last, the dessert fork and spoon go nearest the plate on the left and right, respectively. Note that the dessert spoon will be your innermost spoon, but it will still be placed to the right of the knife. The knife remains the utensil that's nearest to the dinner plate on the right.

The salad plate is placed to the left of the forks. The soup bowl comes out with the soup, while the dessert plate can come out when serving dessert. Bread plates and drinking glasses follow the same rule as with basic table setting. Napkins go on top of the main plate, since the salad plate is using up the space to the left of the forks.

Formal Table Settings

Formal Table Settings Infographic

Holiday affairs, dinner parties and other formal events call for formal table settings designed to handle a meal that has more than three courses. These table settings consist of a charger plate, napkin, drinking glasses, and various utensils. The charger plate is a plate that stays on the table to be used beneath the salad and soup bowls. The charger plate is traded for the entrée plate when the main entrée is served.

Utensils that may be part of the formal table setting include:

  • Forks, such as a salad fork, dinner fork, dessert fork, fish fork and the oyster fork
  • Knives, such as fish knife, dinner knife
  • Spoons, such as soup spoon, dinner spoon, dessert spoon

Since you already have the basic and informal table settings mastered, moving up to the formal table setting is not as complicated as it may first appear. Just keep in mind that the utensils that are used first are always on the outer edges, while those used last are nearest the center plate.

Also note that a formal place setting could get rather overwhelming in some cases if every single utensil used were placed on the table, especially when you need room for your table top decorations.

The general rule is to place no more than three utensils of the same type on the table, which means you're limited to three forks, three knives and three spoons at any given time. When additional utensils are required, they can be brought out and removed with the course to which they're associated.

Keep these place setting tips in mind and you'll be setting the table like a pro, whether it's for a casual brunch with friends or a full-blown, seven-course meal to ring in the holidays.