How to Set a Table: 3 Ways

Learn how to properly set a table for a basic, casual and formal dinner party.

Show: HGTV Happy

A home-cooked meal is only as good as the home in which it’s enjoyed in, right? Err — something like that. Elevate your meals by setting the perfect table for any occasion. Whether basic, casual or formal, we’ve got the perfect tips for setting a table like an expert.

Basic Table Setting

Basic Table Setting

Basic Table Setting

A basic table with a napkin and fork on the left and a knife and spoon on the right, and water glass above the plate.

Photo by: Heather Baird SprinkleBakes.com

Heather Baird SprinkleBakes.com

The basic table setting should include no less than a fork, knife, spoon and napkin beside the plate. This setup is fine for an informal meal or potluck.

  • As a general rule, position the folded napkin two inches to the left of the plate and place the fork on the napkin. The napkin can also be laid across the plate with or without a napkin ring.
  • To the right of the plate, place the knife with the blade facing the plate.
  • Approximately one inch to the right of the knife, place a teaspoon.
  • To cap off this perfect table setting, position a water glass directly above the knife.

Casual and Complete Table Setting

Blue and White Casual Table Setting

Blue and White Casual Table Setting

This casual table setting includes a dinner plate on a wicker charger, wine and water glasses, and flatware.

Photo by: Heather Baird SprinkleBakes.com

Heather Baird SprinkleBakes.com

The casual table setting will include everything the basic table setting includes, but where you go from here will depend on your menu. If you're serving soup, salad or bread with your meal, you'll need extra dishes and flatware. This is also a good time to go slightly more elegant with your dishware, cutlery and linens.

  • If you're serving a soup and salad course, add the salad plate and soup bowl on top of the dinner plate. Place the salad fork to the left of the dinner fork and a soup spoon to the right of the teaspoon.
  • If you're serving bread and butter, place the bread plate on the top left, a few inches above the fork. Place the butter knife on top of the plate at an angle with the blade facing left.
  • The napkin can be placed underneath the forks or it can be laid in between the dinner plate and the salad plate or soup bowl. To add a playful touch, tie the napkin in a fun knot and place it on the plate.
  • Place the water and wine glasses on the top right of the knife and spoons.

Formal Dinner Setting

A formal table setting with dinner, salad and bread plates, flatware, wine and water glasses and a place card.

Formal Table Setting

A formal table setting with dinner, salad and bread plates, flatware, wine and water glasses and a place card.

Photo by: Heather Baird SprinkleBakes.com

Heather Baird SprinkleBakes.com

A formal setting will include everything in the basic and complete setting, but will also include everything needed for a multi-course meal. The linens and tableware should match and coordinate with one another and be perfectly lined up.

  • Lay a tablecloth and use a charger or placement for each setting.
  • Place a salad plate and a soup bowl on top of the dinner plate.
  • Place a salad fork to the left of the dinner fork and a soup spoon to the right of the teaspoon.
  • Above the plates, add a dessert spoon.
  • Place the bread plate on the top left, a few inches above the fork. Lay a butter knife on top of the plate at an angle with the blade facing left.
  • Place the water and wine glasses on the top right of the knife and spoons. If serving multiple wine options, remember to have appropriate glassware on hand. Slide a white wine glass beneath the red wine glass to form an elegant triangle of glassware for your guests to choose from.
  • Place cards should go directly above the dessert spoon.
  • Optional, but elegant, a personal salt and pepper shaker for each guest should be placed on each side of the place card.

For the full formal effect, decorate the table with candles, flowers or centerpieces.

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