So you’ve decided to take on the challenge of hosting a dinner party. Maybe it’s for your wedding, a holiday feast or a fancy dinner with friends. The food is decided, however you are still unsure about how to set the table. Depending on the occasion, there are different etiquette rules to follow when creating the perfect tablescape.

To figure out how to set the table, you’ll want to decide on whether the event is casual or formal. While a casual table is great for outdoors and relaxed dinners, a formal table setting is ideal for a wedding or important celebration.

General Table Setting Guidelines

In order to set the table, there are general guidelines that one must follow:

  • Most commonly, the lower edges of the utensils are to be aligned with the bottom rim of the plate.
  • The bottom rim of the plate is one inch up from the edge of the table.
  • The water glasses are filled before guests are seated.
  • Once filled, the water glasses are placed about an inch from the tip of the dinner knife.
  • There should not be more than three pieces of flatware on either side of the plate at one time.
  • In order for each guest to have elbow room, there must be a minimum of 15 inches between place settings.

Casual Table Setting

The casual table setting is the most popular table setting and is a perfect fit for dinner parties, large events and casual wedding receptions. It also leaves more room for guests around the dinner table. Why? There are fewer utensils in a casual table setting than a formal table setting, in addition to fewer glasses.

Forks: Both forks are placed on the left side of the service plate. The fork that is farthest from the service plate is for salad. This fork is smaller than the dinner fork, which is closest to the plate. Fork tines are placed upward in the American style.

Knives: For the casual table setting, there are two knives used. The salad knife is placed to the left of the soup spoon as it is used in the second course. The dinner knife is immediately to the right of the charger, and should mirror the dinner fork on the left.

Plates: A charger is placed in the center of the place setting, and as different courses come out, they are each placed on top of the charger. The entree plate is placed on top of the charger (also known as a service plate) and is usually taken away with each course. The charger is laid about one inch from the edge of the table.

Spoons: The soup spoon is placed on the outer edge of the right side of the charger. The dessert spoon is usually placed horizontally above the entree plate, as this is the smallest of the spoons.

Glasses: There are typically only two glasses for the casual setting—the water glass, which is the larger of the two, and a single wine glass. They are placed directly above the silverware on the upper right side.

Napkins: The napkin is folded on top of the entree plate. It can also be placed to the left of the last fork.

Formal Table Setting

The formal table setting is most popular for multiple course meals and formal wedding receptions. It includes more flatware and glasses, as there are typically more than three courses served. 

Forks: There are several forks that are included In a formal table setting. First, the salad fork, which is on the outer left edge of the table setting. Then comes the fish fork. This is next to the salad fork because the fish or seafood course is typically served after the salad on formal occasions. The fish fork is typically smaller than the dinner fork and features an extra wide left tine to separate fish from the bone.

The dinner fork is directly to the left of the charger and entree plates. The dinner fork has long, tapered tines that are intended to spear pieces of food such as steak. If shellfish are to be served, an oyster fork will be set either above the charger or to the right of the spoon.

Knives: There are three knives used in a formal table setting. The salad knife is to the left of the soup spoon, as this is usually the second course. The dinner knife is the closest to the charger on the right side, which matches the dinner fork placement on the left side. Lastly, the butter knife is laid on the bread-and-butter plate above and to the left of the service plate. All blades are faced inward toward the plate.

Plates: For a formal table setting, there are two main plates that are present when a guest sits down at the table. The first is the charger, which is at the center of the table setting. Each course is set on top of the charger, except for the dinner course at which point the charger is removed. The small butter plate is placed above the forks to the upper right of the place setting.

Spoons: There are two spoons in a formal setting, much like the casual setting. The soup spoon is placed on the outer edge of the right side, since the soup is the first course. A dessert spoon is placed above the entree plate, as this is the smallest of the spoons.

Glasses: There are typically four glasses used in a formal table setting: a white wine glass, red wine glass, water glass and a champagne or cocktail glass. The white wine glass is the closest to the guest since white wine is usually served before the red wine. Then the red wine glass is beside the white wine glass and is usually taller and bigger than the white. The water glass is usually closest to the charger. The champagne/cocktail glass is typically above the water glass.

With a complete guide to both formal and casual table settings, you’ll be ready to host your next event in style. Whether you’re hosting a holiday dinner party or a winter wonderland wedding, our table setting tips will guide you through the holiday season. For the perfect Christmas dinner, set the table with our Happy Holly placemats that can be personalized with your family name. Pair with your favorite flowers or table decor pieces for added customization. Follow our table setting rules along with our etiquette tips for a guaranteed special night with friends and family!