Never forget how to correctly set a table again with these easy reminders for how to set a table for family gatherings, social dinners, and even romantic dates! 

As soon as I think about table settings, memories flash in my mind of my very wonderful, yet formal, grandmother reminding me that the forks go to the left of the plate… or was it the right? And do the knives point in or out? And don’t forget the placemats! Every time my seniors ask me to set the table for a formal meal, I must admit I begin to panic just a little.

With that in mind, I thought I would break the endless cycle of my lack-of-place-setting knowledge and surprise my family with my ability to put multiple forks and spoons in the correct place without being reminded; even if the majority of them won't notice. And I thought I would bring you all along for the ride, so maybe we can all learn a thing or two.

Since the table and its decor are the centerpiece of any dinner party, I think it’s important to remember the etiquette behind the tradition just to keep things special, beautiful, classic, and fun.

How to Set a Table Orange Pink and Gold Formal Dinner Table Setting with Floral Centerpiece

Via Matters of Style

I believe that most of my generation of twenty-somethings has forgotten (or maybe never learned) the classic rules of table etiquette that our grandparents were so fond of. lf we do sit down to eat at an actual table, our meal is often filled with texting, forgotten manners, a video being shared, rushing to get to the next activity, or watching the TV in a room close by. And besides a couple of what I would deem ridiculous etiquette rules, it’s really quite a shame that we don’t put more emphasis on the importance of slowing down, making mealtimes special, and honoring the host who provided what is before us. Food is essential for every human being, and bringing mealtime back to the family dinner table is important, especially for the little ones coming after us. 

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Table etiquette and table place settings are cross-cultural. Don’t think it was just the upper class English or noble French that required people to sit up straight, only use their napkin at the end of the meal, and chew with their mouths closed. If you plan on hosting parties for people of different cultural backgrounds or traveling, reading about these different cultures' dining etiquette can definitely help you make a good impression. Now that you're aware that we’re not the only crazies in the world who put emphasis on the table settings in our dining room, let’s learn how to properly use an American style table setting.

How to Set a Table American Table Setting White Formal Dinner Ware with Gold Accents Floral Centerpiece

Via House Beautiful

The problem is, if you’re like me you've been taught to do a proper table setting before, but you can't seem to recall how when the time for traditional table setting comes! The struggles of remembering which fork is which and whether the spoon or knife is closer to the plate never seem to evade me. I’ll try to explain this as simply and logically as I am able so you don’t have to pull up instructions every time you’re having someone over for dinner. Without being an etiquette snob or making you break into a nervous sweat, here are some helpful tips on how to create a formal dinner setting:

How to Set a Table Formal Dinner Setting Figure


  • In a formal dinner, everything is placed to be used in order of courses. So, if a bowl is on top of the plate, it means soup will be served before the plate is used. If there are three forks you can assume there will be a salad, dinner, and dessert. In this case, you would place the salad fork to the left of the plate farthest away, the dinner fork will be in the middle, and the third, or closest, fork is for dessert.
  • Forks always go to the left of the plate. This is because in Europe, etiquette rules state that you have to eat with a fork using your left hand ONLY and things seem to stick for centuries. I would have bigger problems than trying to hold a fork with my left hand if I did this and those would include dinner down my dress! Don’t worry, according to American etiquette you keep the fork on the left of the plate, but hold it with whichever hand you favor.
  • ​If the forks go on the left, the knife and spoon are placed to the right of the plate. Again, order of courses and of use come into play here. You will place a soup spoon on the far right, followed by a beverage spoon in the middle, and ending with the dinner knife closest to the plate. The cutting end of the knife faces the plate.
  • There should be no need for more than 3 utensils at a proper place setting. Match the end of the utensil with the bottom of the plate. Picture an imaginary line running parallel to the table across the bottom of the plate; line everything up with this line to keep things orderly. The “line” should be about an inch away from the table where your guest will pull up to be seated.
  • I always thought the “miniature” plates my mom had in her cabinets were for small portions (that’s a joke)! What isn’t a joke is that we hardly ever used those small plates in my house as I was growing up. As I may have mentioned before, I’m a newlywed and on my wedding registry I did register for these little plates but not because I knew what they were for. UNTIL NOW! Those smaller plates are for the bread and glorious butter. For bread plate placement, put them at the top left corner above the million forks you just put on the table. Include a butter knife over the top of the plate. Now that I know what these little gems are for, I plan to actually use them.
  • ​The napkin goes just to the left of the forks, or in an empty dinner glass.
  • Place the glass for water above the knife and spoon to the right of the plate. If you’re serving wine, champagne, or an additional beverage, place the additional glasses to the right of the water glass, still in alignment with the knife and spoon. Be aware that you can serve both dinner and dessert wine.

I hope this breakdown of how to set your table for your next family get-together or holiday dinner party is helpful. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to print out the place setting diagram pictured above and tape it in your favorite recipe book or to the inside of a cabinet, just in case you lose your marbles or sleep a little after reading this blog post!

How to Set a Table Spring Tablescape with White and Pink China and Floral Accents

Via Opulent Cottage

Table Decorations

Now that you know where everything (and I mean every fork, spoon, and knife you may possibly own) belongs on your dinner table setting, I thought it would be helpful for you to know what is appropriate to use as decor (though I think a little creative rebellion in this case wouldn’t hurt anyone). And who doesn’t want to talk about spicing up your table decor?!

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How to Set a Table Valentines Day Tablescape with Red Roses Centerpiece and White China Heart Napkins Candlelight

Via DigsDigs

  • A tablecloth: The tablecloth shouldn’t be floor length, but come to just above your guests’ knees.
How to Set a Table Valentines Day Tablescape with Gold Charger White China Red Bird Napkin Holly Accents

Via Nazmiyal

  • Placemats: Yes, it's okay to use placemats and a tablecloth at the same time in a formal table setting.

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How to Set a Table Wooden Charger for Table Settings Rustic Dinner Table

Via Elizabeth Anne Designs

  • Chargers: If you don’t know what a “charger” is check out the gold plates pictured below. I recently stumbled across these gems and even used gold chargers at my wedding. They are purely aesthetic. A great thing to remember about chargers is that they can also be a fun DIY project. I’ve seen people use cuts of wood (like above), painted doilies, and other homemade items. I personally want to use them all the time and may keep them on my dinner table setup just for fun once I’m settled into my new home in this new marriage of mine!
How to Set a Table Gold Charger for Table Setting Formal Dining Table with Floral Centerpiece and Black and Gold Dinnerware

Via Better Decorating Bible

  • Centerpieces and other decorations: ​Flowers are definitely appropriate to have on your table. As are candles and other greenery. But if you don’t want to get too crazy with your decor, I would suggest using what you have: the actual dinner! Yes, bring out your fun bowls, or maybe even decorate some of the dishes. Food is so naturally colorful that with a little help from some fun servingware, you can easily fill the center of your table with edible goodness. (Don't forget to pass the food from left to right - clockwise, as per table setting etiquette.)
How to Set a Table Cork Based Name Cards for Table Setting Thanksgiving Dining Table

Via Segreto Secrets

  • Name cards: These can definitely help add a theme to your dinner party. They can also be an easy way to ensure all of your guests intermingle. You can strategically place your more introverted guests by those who always have a story to tell. Or maybe, if you’ve been dying to introduce two unwilling friends to each other, you can sneak attack them by making them sit next to each other. Whatever you decide, name cards and pre-arranged seating at your dinner table are definitely okay!

I hope you all enjoyed reading about table settings and maybe even learned a useful thing or two. Leave your comments, suggestions, and any other notes below! I would love to hear about what you’re serving as a host for a dinner party, or any dinner party mishaps that turned into a hilarious story. Thank you for reading! Bon appetit!

**Featured image via Punchbowl