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How Do I Set a Table

How do I set a table?

A properly set table is a beautiful sight to behold and a time-honored tradition. Whether you want to make everyday dining extraordinary or to create a beautiful setting for a special event, simply follow the guidelines below for how to set a casual, formal, or buffet table.

You don't need to use all of the items described or to remember all of the details. Personalize your table with the pieces you love; and if you forget what goes where, we're always here to help, so come back to the Lifetime Sterling site for a refresher course on table setting whenever you need it.

General Guidelines

  • Spacing:  Allow for 24 to 30 inches for each placesetting.
  • Placement:  Placesettings should sit 1 inch from the edge of the table.
  • Order:  All silverware is placed in the order of use: The first utensil to be used should be farthest from the plate.
  • Knives:  Knives are placed at the right of the plate, with the knife's cutting edge facing the plate. However, the butter spreader should be placed diagonally on the bread plate, with the blade's edge toward the dinner fork.
  • Spoons:  Spoons are placed at the right of the plate and at the right of the knives.
  • Forks:  Forks are placed at the left of the plate, in order of use. The only exception is the cocktail fork, which sits at the right of the soup spoon.
  • Salad/dessert forks:  If salad will be served with the main course, or if the salad fork will be used as a dessert fork, it is placed at the right of the dinner fork, next to the plate. The dessert fork and spoon can also be placed above the plate, European-style. The spoon, with its handle to the right, goes above the fork. The fork's handle points to the left.

 

Casual Dinner Settings

  • Bread and butter plates:  The bread and butter plate is optional at an informal dinner party. If you plan to use a bread and butter plate, place it at the upper left of the dinner plate; lay the butter spreader horizontally across the plate, with the blade facing the plate.
  • Place knives:  Place knives are set at the immediate right of the dinner plate, with blades facing the plate. A soup spoon, if needed, is set at the right of all knives.
  • Forks:  Forks are placed at the left of the dinner plate in the order of their use, starting from the outside and moving toward the plate.
  • Dessert spoons and forks:  Dessert spoons can be brought to the table with the dessert plates.
  • Water glasses:  Water glasses should be set just above the knife.
  • Wine glasses:  The wine glass is placed slightly at the right of the water glass.
  • Cups and saucers:  A cup and a saucer can be brought to the table along with the teaspoon with dessert.
  • Napkins:  Place a folded napkin at the left of your forks.

Casual Place Setting

Formal Dinners

  • Chargers and dinner plates:  At most formal dinner parties, a charger (a large decorative plate) is used at each guest's place and then removed from the table with the first-course plates. If you're not using a charger, then set dinner plates at each place.
  • Salad plates:  If salad will be served as the first course, place the salad plate on top of the dinner plate. If space allows, the salad plate can be arranged at the left of the forks.
  • Knives:  Knives are set at the immediate right of the dinner plate, with blades facing the plate.
  • Soup spoons:  The soup spoon, if needed, sits at the right of all knives.
  • Forks:  Forks are placed at the left of the dinner plate in the order of use, from the outside in toward the plate.
  • Salad forks:  If the salad is served European-style (after the entrée), place the salad fork at the right of the place fork, next to the plate.
  • Salad knives:  If you are setting a salad knife, place it at the right of the plate, to correspond with the placement of the salad fork.
  • Oyster/shelfish forks:  The only exception to "forks on the left" is when you need an oyster or a shellfish fork. The oyster fork is placed at the right side of the dinner plate, to the right of the knives.
  • Dessert spoons and forks:  Dessert spoons and forks can be placed horizontally above the dinner plate or brought to the table with the dessert plates.
  • Water glasses:  Water glasses should be set just above the knife.
  • Wine glasses:  The wine glass, red or white, is placed slightly at the right of the water glass. When using both red and white wine glasses, place each (red, then white) at the right of the water glass. Place a champagne flute behind the other two wine glasses, thus forming a triangle.
  • Cups and saucers:  A cup and a saucer are not part of a formal placesetting. They should be brought to the table along with the teaspoon and the dessert plate.
  • Napkins:  Don't forget about your napkin. Arrange a folded napkin in the center of the top plate. If the soup bowl is set on the top plate, then place the folded napkin to the left of the forks.

Formal Place Setting

Buffets

  • Buffet table:  When using a round table, mirror the assortment on each half of the table and place the courses in the same order, so guests keep moving clockwise to the left. Another popular approach is called "the three-sided buffet." For this approach, set a rectangular table against a wall. Traffic should flow in one direction through the buffet, allowing you to use just one dish for each assortment.
  • Order of arrangement:  Whichever option you choose, arrange the meal in the following order: dinner plates, stacked with a maximum of 12 plates per stack; hot main course, preferably in a chafing dish; second entrée (optional); vegetable; salad; relish tray, olives or nuts (optional); breads; flatware; folded dinner-size napkins. (Napkins can also be stacked between the plates or wrapped around the flatware.)
  • Beverages and glassware:  Beverages and glassware should be placed on a separate table along with coffee and dessert service so guests can help themselves.