How to Set a Formal Table (Slideshow)
Advice on impressing guests with the perfect table setting
Arranging the Table
What I like to tell people is that you set the utensils in the order you use them.
A. Linen Napkin B. Dinner Plate C. Soup Bowl D. Butter Plate and Butter Knife E. Water Glass F. White Wine Glass G. Red Wine Glass H. Fish Fork I. Dinner Fork J. Salad Fork K. Steak Knife and or Fish Knife (the Fish Knife is optional) L. Dinner Knife M. Soup Spoon N. Dessert Fork/ Spoon
The Basic Essentials
The table should be covered with a clean, pressed tablecloth. I personally love buying vintage linens at the flea market. If you only have one tablecloth it should be white.
Other must haves (10-12 of each): Linen napkins; a full set of flatware including steak, butter, and fish knives (fish knives are optional); a full set of dinnerware with soup bowls, salad, and bread plates; obviously dinner plates and dessert plates; water and wine glasses (both red and white); Champagne flutes and Sherry/cordial glasses.
From the Beginning
Whether you’re using a runner, tablecloth, or placemats, those go on the table first. Then you can start with the charger and or dinner plate.
Stylist tip: I like to make sure the dining chair is right in front of each plate. That way your setting will be square and proportioned all around the table. This simple trick makes for the perfect starting point.
Think about the menu and arrange the plates accordingly. I like to place the soup bowls in the dinner plates empty and then take them up to serve soup. You may leave the bowls off the dinner plates and place the soup filled bowls on top of the dinner plates before guests are seated. You can also just use a charger and place the folded napkin where the plate would be. Some people like to warm the plates so this configuration is perfectly acceptable as an alternate setting.
The rule is that the water and wine glasses go on the right and the bread and butter plate go on the left. Always look to the left and right when you are seated and make sure they are in the proper place, this avoids grabbing the wrong glass of water or your neighbor’s bread.
Arranging the Napkins
Personally I am not big on napkin art. I think that the napkin should go on the left, or in the center of the plate, not in the water glass, or draped over the back of a chair. Simple for me is better.
The Biggest Formal Mistake
Setting the napkin on the right-hand side is a no-no. The napkin should always go on the left.
Using Place Cards
Using place cards is a useful and formal touch. I use place cards:
1. When the dinner party is very large; 10 or more.
2. When it’s a business event, or guests do not know one another.
3. When I want to make something pretty for a themed tablescape, or craft place cards into take away gifts.
Setting a coffee cup and saucer is sometimes appropriate to the right of the wine glasses, but usually used in banquet scenarios. Extras include an oyster fork or a soup spoon. Extra glasses include: Champagne flute or coupe, and Sherry glasses.
Saving Space and Staying Formal
The easiest way to save space on the table is to set the napkin in the middle of the plate, and determine from your menu exactly what utensils you will need. I like to set up a bar, so the wine glasses are not on the table, this also saves tabletop space.
Setting the Kid’s Table
I love the kids table; it’s the best way to teach children table manners. Set the kids table exactly as you would your own table, minus the wine glasses. Have them help you set the table so these lessons are taught early on. Once your kids can set a formal table, they’ll love it and to the question above they can make setting the table move along much faster. I love using a small, round, breakdown table covered in a tablecloth just like the adult table. However I usually put a few fun projects on the table to make the small guests happy.
Keep the flowers low, I do not like the idea of having to move the centerpiece off the table when guests are seated. Small arrangements at each setting are a lovely touch as well.
I love the idea of a mixed table. It makes for an interesting table setting. Just make sure style, pattern, and sizes work together.