How to set up a formal table setting


In setting up a formal table, everything should be geometrically spaced: centerpiece at the center; place settings at equal distances; and the utensils balanced. Decorations and flower arrangements around the setting as you like. 

The placement of utensils is guided by the menu, the idea being that you use utensils in an "outside in" order. In the illustrated place setting, the order of the menu is:      

  • Appetizer: Shellfish     
  • First Course: Soup or fruit     
  • Second Course: Fish    
  • Entree    
  • Salad   

Service Plate: This large plate, also called a charger, serves as an under-plate for the plate holding the first course, which will be brought to the table. When the first course is cleared, the service plate remains until the plate holding the entree is served, at which point the two plates are exchanged. The charger may serve as the under-plate for several courses which precede the entree.

Butter Plate: The small butter plate is placed above the forks at the left of the place setting. 

Dinner Fork: The largest of the forks, also called the place fork, is placed on the left of the plate. Other smaller forks for other courses are arranged to the left or right of the dinner fork, according to when they will be used. 

Fish Fork: If there is a fish course, this small fork is placed farthest to the left of the dinner fork because it is the first fork used. 

Salad Fork: If the salad is served after the entree, the small salad fork is placed to the right of the dinner fork, next to the plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the forks would be arranged (left to right): salad fork, fish fork, dinner fork. 

Dinner Knife: The large dinner knife is placed to the right of the dinner plate. 

Fish Knife: The specially shaped fish knife goes to the right of the dinner knife. 

Salad Knife (Note: there is no salad knife in the illustration): If used, according to the above menu, it would be placed to the left of the dinner knife, next to the dinner plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the knives would be arranged (left to right): dinner knife, fish knife, salad knife. 

Soup Spoon or Fruit Spoon: If soup or fruit is served as a first course, then the accompanying spoon goes to the right of the knives. 

Oyster Fork: If shellfish are to be served, the oyster fork goes to the right of the spoons. Note: It is the only fork ever placed on the right of the plate.  

Butter Knife: The small spreader is paced diagonally on top of the butter plate, handle on the right and blade down. 

Glasses: Glasses are placed at the top right of the dinner plate, above the knives and spoons. These can number up to five and are placed so that the smaller ones are up front.

Champagne Flute: Placed on the right side and closest to the utensils.

Red/White Glasses: Place to the left and slightly behind the Champagne Flute.

Water Glass: Placed on the left side of the glass arrangement and hovers over the plate setting.

Napkin: The napkin is folded or put in a napkin ring and placed either to the left of the forks or on the center of the dinner plate. Sometimes, a folded napkin is placed under the forks.

Coffee Cup and Saucer: (Not in illustration) At home, most people serve coffee after the meal. In a restaurant serving a large number of people at once, the coffee cup and saucer are placed above and to the right of the knife and spoons.

In General:        

  • Knife blades are always placed with the cutting edge toward the plate.     
  • No more than three of any implement is ever placed on the table, except when an oyster fork is used in addition to three other forks. If more than three courses are served before dessert, then the utensil for the fourth course is brought in with the food; likewise, the salad fork and knife may be brought in when the salad course is served.      
  • Dessert spoons and forks are brought in on the dessert plate just before dessert is served.