How To Set A Table For Every Occassion

How To Set A Table

When it comes to planning a wedding, it’s all about the details. That includes knowing how to set a proper table so that you can entertain your guests and provide them with a truly great dining experience. Whether it’s a rustic wedding, or a casual dinner party, it’s important to follow basic table setting rules.
That’s why FTD created these helpful guides that feature table setting rules for any occasion. Ever wonder where the champagne flute or the dessert spoon is supposed to go? Each guide lists everything you need for a formal, casual, or buffet style event, and illustrates each item’s proper location. Check out these table setting guides to help you plan your next event!

Knowing which table setting rules to follow does not have be complicated if you just adhere to a few simple guidelines. Let’s explore the four types of table settings.


4 Types of Table Settings:

  1. Formal
  2. Informal
  3. Basic
  4. Buffet

To figure out which table setting to use, you’ll want to know how formal your event will be. Having a formal table setting for a dinner party at home may make your guests feel a bit uncomfortable. On the other hand, using a buffet table setting for a formal gala would also be rather inappropriate.

Choosing the right table setting for your event will depend on several factors, including: the formality of the event, how many courses to be served, and how it will be served. You’ll want to choose a table setting that will give the guest the best experience at your event.


Each of these four table settings have their own rules and include different components including utensils, glassware, and dishware.

How To Set A Table

Photography and Menu card Design by: Melissa Fuller Photography | @melissafullerphotography

General Table Setting Rules:

To start, let’s begin with a few general table setting rules that apply to each type of table setting.

  1. Utensils – For starters, utensils are placed in the order in which they are used with the first ones placed on the outside. For example: the salad fork is placed on the outermost edge of the left side before the dinner fork. This is because salads are usually served before the main course.
  1. Forks – These are usually placed on the left side of the main service plate. The exception is the dessert fork which can be placed above the plate and the oyster fork which is placed on the right side.
  1. Knives – Knives are always placed on the right side of the plate, with the cutting blade facing inwards towards the plate. The exception is the butter knife which is placed on the butter plate, with the blade pointing downwards and left.
  1. Spoons – Spoons are typically placed on the right side of the plate. The exception is the dessert spoon which is placed directly above the service plate.
  1. Placement – All utensils should be placed about an inch from the edge of the table and lined up evenly from the bottom ends.
  1. Set only what you use – Only set the utensils that will be used throughout the service. If there is no soup, there’s no need to set a soup spoon.

Now that you’ve got the basics, it’s time to learn more about each of the table setting types. To help you out, we created these place setting templates so you can identify each element of the table setting. We’ve also included a list of the components along with their descriptions for each type of table setting.

1. Formal

The formal table setting is popular for weddings, holiday meals, or any occasion when more than three courses will be served. You may also find the formal table setting at high-end restaurants that serve multiple courses. In a formal table setting, the service plate comes with each course, so it is not necessary to include it when setting the table.

Out of all the table settings, the formal table setting is the most symmetrical. Therefore, the utensil placement is the most important factor as this table setting includes the most utensils. According to Emily Post, symmetry applies to the table decor as well. The centerpiece goes strictly in the middle, and there must be an even number of candles lining the table.

The overall result is a well-balanced table setting that is optimal for a formal dining experience.

How To Set A Formal Table

Photography by: Lane Dittoe

Formal Table Setting Elements

Center

  • Charger – The charger is the center stage of the table setting. As various courses come and go, they are set on top of the charger, including the salad course, soup course, and fish course. When the dinner course arrives, the charger is taken away.
  • Service plate – The service plate, or entrée plate, is placed on top of the charger, and is usually taken away before the next course.
  • Napkin – The napkin is folded and placed on top of the charger before service begins.
  • Menu card – The menu card can either be placed on top of the napkin or inserted into the folds of the napkin for a more formal display.

 

Left-side

  • Salad fork – Salad is the second course that is served, so the salad fork is placed at the outer left edge of the table setting. The salad fork is usually smaller than the dinner fork.
  • Fish fork – Next to the salad fork is the fish fork. In a formal setting, the fish or seafood course is served after the salad. Traditionally, the shape of the fish fork is designed to optimally lift the flesh away from the bones. In a dinner without a seafood course, the fish fork is used as the second course fork.
  • Dinner fork – The dinner fork is placed to the immediate left of the charger or service plate. The dinner fork is usually the largest of the three forks.

Right-side

  • Soup spoon – In a formal service, soup is the first course that is served. Therefore, the soup spoon is placed on the outer edge of the right side.
  • Salad knife – The salad is served after the soup, therefore the corresponding knife is placed to the left of the soup spoon.
  • Dinner knife – The dinner knife is placed to the immediate right of the service plate, corresponding with the placement of the dinner fork.

Top

  • Butter plate – This plate is placed to the top left corner of the place setting.
  • Butter knife – This is placed on top of the butter plate, pointing left and the blade facing down so that the handle is towards the guest.
  • Dessert teaspoon – Placed above the entrée plate, this is the smallest of the spoons.
  • Dessert fork – Placed beneath the desert teaspoon, and can be used for the fruit course.
  • White wine glass – The white wine glass is placed closer to the guest, as it is usually served before the red wine — along with the second course.
  • Red wine glass – The red wine glass is larger and taller than the white wine glass.
  • Champagne flute – The champagne flute is placed to the outer right of the glasses, because it accompanies the first toast.
  • Water glass – This glass is the largest of the glasses, and is placed closest to the guest directly above the knives.

 

2. Informal

The informal table setting is probably the most widely used. It is a great fit for casual weddings, dinner parties, or any occasion that needs a just bit of dressing up without being too formal.

How To Set An Informal Table

Photography by: Steven Steinhardt

There are subtle differences between the informal table setting and the formal table setting. There are fewer utensils involved in an informal table setting, as well as fewer glasses. Also, a butter plate may or may not be provided.

Informal Table Setting Elements:

Center

  • Service plate – The service plate, or entrée plate, is placed on top of the charger (if one is provided), and is usually taken away before the next course.
  • Napkin – The napkin is folded and placed on top of the plate before service begins.
  • Menu card – The menu card can either be placed on top of the napkin or inserted into the folds of the napkin for a more formal display.

Left-side

  • Salad fork – Salad is the second course that is served, so the salad fork is placed at the outer left edge of the table setting. The salad fork is usually smaller than the dinner fork.
  • Dinner fork – The dinner fork is placed to the immediate left of the charger or service plate. The dinner fork is typically the largest fork.

Right-side

  • Soup spoon – Soup is typically the first course that is served. Therefore, the soup spoon is placed on the outer edge of the right side.
  • Salad knife – The salad is served after the soup, so the salad knife is placed to the left of the soup spoon.
  • Dinner knife – The dinner knife is placed to the immediate right of the service plate, corresponding with the placement of the dinner fork.

Top

  • Dessert teaspoon – Placed above the entrée plate, this is the smallest of the spoons.
  • Water glass – This glass is the largest of the glasses.
  • Wine glass – A single wine glass is all that’s needed for the informal table setting.

 

3. Basic

How To Set A Table

Photography by: Jen Wojcik

The basic table setting is essentially a simplified version of the informal table setting, with just a few subtle differences. For example, no dessert utensils are included and it may include fewer glasses. The basic table setting is great for daytime brunches, casual dinner parties, or for fancy dinners at home

Basic Table Setting Elements:

Center

  • Charger – The charger is the center stage of the table setting. As various courses come and go, they are set on top of the charger, including the salad course, soup course, and fish course. When the dinner course arrives, the charger is taken away.
  • Service plate – The service plate, or entrée plate, is placed on top of the charger (if one is provided), and is usually taken away before the next course.
  • Napkin – The napkin is folded and placed on top of the plate before service begins.
  • Menu card – The menu card can either be placed on top of the napkin or inserted into the folds of the napkin for a more formal display.

Left-side

  • Salad fork – Salad is the second course that is served, so the salad fork is placed at the outer left edge of the table setting. The salad fork is usually smaller than the dinner fork.
  • Dinner fork – The dinner fork is placed to the immediate left of the charger or service plate. The dinner fork is typically the largest fork.

Right-side

  • Soup spoon – Soup is typically the first course that is served. Therefore, the soup spoon is placed on the outer edge of the right side.
  • Dinner knife – The dinner knife is placed to the immediate right of the service plate, corresponding with the placement of the dinner fork.

Top

  • Water glass – This glass is the largest of the glasses.
  • Wine glass – A single wine glass is all that’s needed for the informal table setting.

 

4. Buffet

How to set a table for a buffet

Photography by: Peaches and Mint

The buffet setting includes only the essentials. Typically there is no plate or charger placed on the table, as the plate is usually picked up at the buffet table for the guests to serve themselves.  Alternatively, having no silverware on the table is common, as utensils are also commonly placed at the end of the buffet table line.

Buffet Table Setting Elements:

Center

  • Napkin – The napkin is folded and placed on top of the plate before service begins. Napkins can also be placed at the buffet table near the utensils.
  • Menu card – The menu card can either be placed on top of the napkin or inserted into the folds of the napkin for a more formal display.

Left-side

  • Salad fork – Salad is the second course that is served, so the salad fork is placed at the outer left edge of the table setting. The salad fork is usually smaller than the dinner fork.
  • Dinner fork – The dinner fork is placed to the immediate left of the charger or service plate. The dinner fork is typically the largest fork.

Right-side

  • Soup spoon – Soup is typically the first course so the soup spoon is placed on the outer right edge of the table setting.
  • Dinner knife – The dinner knife is placed to the immediate right of the service plate, corresponding with the placement of the dinner fork.

Top

  • Water glass – This glass is the largest of the glasses.
  • Wine glass – A single wine glass is all that’s needed for the buffet table setting.

 

Now that you’ve completed the guide, you are now ready to host your next event with confidence! Follow the table setting rules we’ve laid out in this guide, and use the place setting templates to ensure that you will provide your guests with the best experience.

Need a few decor ideas for your next event? Check out FTD’s table centerpieces to add the finishing touch to your tablescape.

 

A quick and easy guide on how to set the table for any occasion from fancy to basic!

Header Image Credits:

Photography by: Sarah Street Photography | Event Stylist: Luxe Luna Couture Events

Resources:

www.etiquettescholar.com 1, 2  |  www.emilypost.com 1, 2  |  www.marthastewart.com  |  www.four-h.purdue.edu  |  hubpages.com  |  homeguides.sfgate.com




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