A festive table setting for a fall dinner.

How to set a Table

Whether you want to make your family meal a little special or you are hosting a fancy dinner, setting the table correctly is important. If setting a table for you means pulling a tray on your lap in front of the television then prepare yourself for some change. Our handy table setting guide will have you impressing your family and dinner guests in no time.

The Basics

No matter how formal or informal you are setting your table, there are a few basics to follow. You will need a dinner plate that should be placed in the center of your place setting with a fork placed to the left and a knife to the right, along with a spoon. The dinner knife should be placed next to the plate with the sharp edge facing the plate and the spoon is placed on the opposite side of the knife with the smooth edge. A water glass should be placed above the knife and napkins are placed either on top of the plate or under the fork.

Setting a Casual Dinner Table

A casual place setting is perfect for special family dinners, such as Sunday lunches with your parents or Christmas dinners. You can also use this simple place setting for romantic dinners during date nights at home.

To begin, you should start with the items you used for a basic place setting then add the following:

  • If you are serving a salad or an appetizer, then an extra fork and knife should be placed next to the cutlery that you have already placed on the table.
  • If you are not serving a salad or appetizer you can keep the extra fork if your dessert would suit a fork rather than a spoon.
  • If you are serving soup to start your meal you can use the spoon you have placed for the basic setting and either add another for dessert (next to the original) or bring the spoon when you serve dessert.
  • When serving soup you will also need a small bread and butter plate that should be placed to the left or your fork. The butter knife should be placed on top of your butter plate and the bread placed alongside it or in a basket between place settings so guests can help themselves.
  • If you are serving tea, a cup and saucer should be placed above the spoons and the handle should point to the right.
  • Just as in a basic place setting, water glasses should be placed to the left and the same goes with wine glasses.

Setting a Formal Dinner Table

Formal place setting can be used if you are wanting to improve your hosting skills and impress business clients. You can also use this setting if you are holding a special New Year's party or want to really treat your circle of friends.

Follow the same instructions as your informal place setting and add the following:

  • Wine glasses (red, white or both depending on what food and drinks you will be serving) should be positioned to the left of tea and coffee cups, along with water glasses.
  • Ideally, wine should be placed on a separate table nearby with white wine in a cooler or ice bucket. As the host of the dinner, you can stand up to top up wine as the meal progresses.
  • If you have a small table the cutlery for each course can be brought when the food is ready with dirty items to take away.
  • You can put a placemat under the main dinner plate.

Tips for Making Your Dinner Extra Special

No matter what type of dinner you are having you can add personal touches to add a little flair and wow your guests even more. Ideas include:

  • Try to keep the guests to a manageable number so that the table is not too cramped and you can pay special attention to everyone.
  • Have a selection of linen on hand, saving the best quality cloths for formal dinners.
  • Add a splash of color to family meals by using bold napkins.
  • Bring out your best crystal glasses and china, you bought it to be used so do not let it gather dust.
  • Practice folding napkins to impress your guests.
  • Welcome drinks and canapés can be served in a different room from your main dining table.
  • Add flowers or candles for a dramatic centerpiece.
  • Use chilled salad plates and gently warm dinner plates.
  • Ask your guests if they want their drinks topped, including water. Guests often feel embarrassed asking to be topped up so try to make them as comfortable as possible.
  • Leave the dishes until your guests have left, you should enjoy your time with them rather than spending time at the sink.
  • Choose appropriate music and lighting to set the right atmosphere for your dinner party.
  • Smile and enjoy!