How To Properly Set A Table For Every Occasion

Setting the table is something not everyone does. But that shouldn’t be reserved for restaurants only. Nothing is stopping us from being a bit more fancy at home and we should actually do that more often. But then the issue remaining is that we need some basic knowledge of how to set a table properly. No worries, it’s actually not that complicated. You probably already know how to properly use everything so let’s see how you can make the table look pretty and fancy for your and your guests.

Traditional dining set

Casual of formal?

First of all, keep in mind that there are various degrees of formality when setting the table. If you’re preparing for something very formal, then you’ll have to offer your guests more than just the basic silverware and water glass. If it’s a casual gathering then things are greatly simplified and there’s really no need to go through all the trouble of filling the table with all the different plates, silverware and accessories.

Black crystal glassware for table set

Everyday table setting rules

An everyday table setting can be fancy and elegant without being formal. You could use a place mat instead of a charger. First of all, center the plates in front of each chair. Each dinner plate should line up with the one across from it. On top of the dinner plate comes the salad plate or the its equivalent, depending on what you choose to serve.

Add candles for dining table decor
Arrange plates on table

Then comes the silverware. Make sure to work from the inside out to keep everything in order and place the utensils in the order they are used. Space them out evenly using your thumb. The fork goes to the left at 9:00 and the knife and spoon go to the right at 3:00. The knife should be placed with the blade facing in towards the plate. Then place the glasses on the upper right at 1:00. Depending on what you’re serving, you can either have a single water glass or you can add one for wine as well.

Small round dining table set


As for the napkin, there are various ways in which to place it. You can either fold it into a simple rectangle and place it underneath the forks, fold it into a triangle pointing inwards or use a napkin ring and place it on the plate. You could also have it plated in a glass and make it look like a swan or something else. This goes for both casual and formal settings.

Seting a table formal

Formal table setting

The rules change a little bit when you’re setting the table for a more formal occasion. There’s more silverware involved and a few more things on the table in general. Also, a charger is used instead of the casual place mat. The plates are then stacked on top of that, with the smallest one on top. This way each plate can be cleared after each course, revealing the next one. There’s also a bread plate that’s placed at the top left at 10:00. Always place the plates a thumb knuckle’s length from the edge of the table.

how to set a table - fresh flowers

The silverware is then arranged. The forks go on the left at 9:00 with the smallest one on the outside. That means you’ll have the dinner, salad and fish fork on this side of the plate. The knives and spoons go on the right, the smallest one on the outside, at 3:00. The dessert flatware goes at the top at 12:00.

How to set a formal dining table
Green modern dish for dining table set

The glasses are placed at the upper right at 1:00. There’s the wine glasses (white and red), the water glass and the champagne flute. The water glass is usually placed to the right of the plate just above the knife followed by the wine glasses and the champagne flute. Sometimes there’s also an all-purpose glass as well.

How to set a table on kitchen island


When dessert is served all wine glasses (except for the dessert one if needed) are cleared from the table. The same thing goes for all the bread plates and salt and pepper shakers as well as any other accessories. The water glasses stay on the table. The dessert utensils are always placed horizontally above the plate but they can also be brought in later if you want to save some space on the table.

Modern wood top dining table with gold legs - how to set a table

Useful tips and info

Both the place mat and charger plates have the same purpose. The charger is also known as a service or presentation plate. Its role is purely decorative and these plates are oversized. They add texture, color and pattern to the table and they can really make the whole presentation look complete and harmonious. In addition to these you can also use place cards and even favors to add charm and beauty to the table.

Gold dining table set

As a general rule, always make accessories easy to reach. This refers to the salt and paper shakers which, by the way, should always travel together so when someone asks you to pass the salt you should also give them the pepper with that.

round dining table with glassware

A symmetrical and uniform table setting tends to look formal and that gives it elegance. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and customize things. You should always feel free to mix and match different styles or colors. There’s no need to have matching sets of plates or for everyone at the table to have the exact same things in front of them.

Red Christmas table design

You can also have a lot of fun with the napkins. Keep in mind that cloth napkins are by far superior to the paper ones. There are also plenty of interesting ways in which you can display these. You can use all sorts of interesting napkin rings or fold the napkins and put them inside the glasses or on top of the plates.

how to set a table in red

Always choose your utensils, plates and everything else depending on the type of food you plan to serve or how formal you want it all to be. For example, if you choose a buffet-style dinner, everything changes. In this case all the plates are stacked and flatware can be rolled inside the napkins and placed at the end of the table. Try to arrange the food at various heights so everyone can reach everything with ease.

Couch used for small square tables