How to Set the Table

A perfectly set table is easier to nail than you might think, no matter what your budget or style. 

By: Ellen Foord

What Goes Where

Everyone wants to set a gorgeous table when guests are coming over. And most of us have a general idea of what needs to be on the table for a casual dinner, but when it’s a special occasion, do you know if you have what you need to dress up your dinner table? We’re going to spell it out, step by step.

The Blank Slate

First, think of what kind of accessories you want to complement your table. Don’t worry about fancy centerpieces. Simple can be just as elegant. A pretty dish for salt, a few branches of eucalyptus, and a couple of succulents set the stage perfectly.

The Placemat

When you were a kid, the setting of a dinner table probably started with a tablecloth. But we encourage you to embrace the woodgrain of your table and nix the cloth. Instead, find a few placemats that play up a few colors in your dining space.

The Dinner Plate

Dinner plates are the foundation of a place setting. It’s nice to have a set of plain white dishes so you're able to be flexible with the colors and elements you use to accessorize for each party and season.

The Dinner Fork

Finding silverware that’s classic but chic isn’t as hard as it used to be. Look for simple, clean lines in different metallics. We love trendy rose gold or brassy gold. To set the table, start by adding your dinner fork. If you’re serving fish, a fish fork can also be included.

The Dinner Knife

A dinner knife is a must. If you’re serving steak, be sure to add a sharp knife with that course.

The Salad Fork

A salad fork should be on the table for the first course, then cleared with the salad plates.

The Soup Spoon

The same applies to your soup spoon. It should be on the table when your guest sits down and cleared after the soup course. 

The Dessert Spoon

Depending on what you’re serving for dessert, you can set your table with a dessert spoon, a cake fork, or both. 

The Salad Plate

The salad place is where you can add another layer of color and texture. Choose a complementary color, a touch of gloss or unexpected texture. 

The Napkin

It’s always tempting to go with napkins that have fun colors, patterns or textures. But you (and your wallet) will appreciate the ability to throw them in a hot wash with some bleach. It's the easiest way to remove all traces of stains. In our book, white cotton is the way to go. Dress up the simplicity of white linens with a napkin ring or vintage brooch. You can find great costume jewelry at the thrift store.

The Water Glass

You can never go wrong with a water glass that’s simple, functional and elegant. They also make great bud vases on a bedside table or desk. 

The Wine Glass

Your dinner course will dictate whether your wine glass is a red or a white, but either way, a clean, sparkling wine glass is a must for any dinner table.

The Champagne Flute

On special occasions, especially those celebrating something, you might want to make a champagne toast. Be sure you have enough flutes on hand (and washed and ready) for the moment. 

The Bread Plate

The bread plate is yet another place to infuse a little personality into your tablescape. Think coordinating, but not matching. 

The Butter Knife

Don’t worry about finding a set of silverware that includes every single piece you need. A mix and match approach is so much more appealing. And also way easier on your budget.

The Coffee/Tea Cup

Depending on the preferences of your guests, you might be serving coffee, tea, or espresso, but no matter what, a hot after-dinner drink is a lovely way to wrap up the night.

The Teaspoon

The teaspoon for your guests’ after-dinner drink is such a small detail, but it adds something special. You can easily build a collection of these small spoons for next to nothing by hitting up local thriftstores. Baby spoons also make great spoons for tea and sugar.

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