Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Manners Monday: How to Properly Set a Table

As promised, we're continuing the topic of Table Etiquette and Part 2 today is all about how to properly set a table. With the upcoming holiday season upon us, I thought this would be a relevant post for many of you.

There are two types of table settings: informal and formal. Whether dining out at a restaurant or in another's home or hosting guests in your own home, here is what you can expect as well as what you'll need to know as it pertains to table settings.

Rules for a Proper Place Setting

A meal that requires a formal place setting will consist of salad, bread, soup, drinks and a main course with dessert and coffee following.


A formal table set with every imaginable piece of silverware can appear daunting, but things will go smoothly if you remember one important rule: start from the outside and work your way in toward the dinner plate. After a course is completed, the server will remove the appropriate silverware that will no longer be required. If there is something still in question, as a last resort you can follow the lead of your host.

Also upon finishing your meal, place your silverware at a 4:00 to 10:00 angle with the knife blade facing you. This position will let your server know that your plate is ready to be cleared.

1. Similar to the informal place setting, again forks are placed on the left of the dinner plate, knives and spoons go on the right.

2. Silverware is to be placed on the table in the order it will be used; silverware that will be used first should be  set to the farthest left and right sides of the plate.

3. Knives should be placed with their cutting-edge toward the dinner plate, except the butter knife which should be laid flat on a bread plate.

4. Utensils should be roughly 1/2 inch away from the plate and should be lined up evenly by using the bottoms as measure.

5. Dessert silverware can be placed at the table setting if you wish or brought out later just before dessert arrives. The dessert fork and/or spoon should be centered above and parallel to the dinner plate.

6. For any type of place setting, avoid using more silverware than the meal calls for.


1. The bread plate should be placed to the right and slightly above the salad plate.

2. Salad plates are placed to the left and just above the forks.

3. Dinner plates should be placed about 2 inches from the table's edge, centered on the place mat or squarely in front of the chair for a proper place setting.

4. Soup bowls are placed on top of the dinner plates.
5. For a formal place setting, when serving multiple courses, the host may opt to serve each course on separate serving plates.

6. Clear dishes and utensils after each course is finished by all at the table.


1. Water glasses should be placed above the dinner knife, with other drinking glasses arranged neatly nearby the water glass and to the right.

2. Coffee cups and saucers may be placed on the table to the right of the knife and spoon.

Napkins and Name Cards

1. For a less formal proper place setting, napkins are placed either on the plate or to the left of the forks. For a more formal place setting, napkins are placed inside a drinking glass whereby a server may place it in your lap upon being seated at the table. Sometimes the napkin will be folded and laying in the center of your plate or underneath the silverware.

2. Name cards are always a good idea for formal place settings, especially if the dinner party is large (such as a wedding) or even a table set for twelve. The card should be placed above the dessert utensil and to the left of the drinking glasses.

3. During the meal the napkin should always be placed in your lap. If you must excuse yourself from the table, the napkin should be left on the arm or seat of your chair, or to the left of your plate as a last resort (as dirty napkins on the table are never appealing).When everyone at your table is through with dessert, you can fold your napkin neatly to the right or left of your plate.'

Courses During a Meal

It is important to remember not to begin eating until everyone else at the table has been served first. Always offer salt, pepper and dressing to others before using it yourself. All items that are in need of being passed around the table from person to person should be done in a clockwise fashion (to your left).


Always offer to others before serving yourself. Never butter your bread directly from the butter dish, regardless of if you will be sharing or using it only for yourself. Instead, place some butter directly on your bread plate. Also, do not butter your roll or slice of bread all at once; break off pieces and butter each one at a time as you eat them. *You'll notice this is the same theme to eating your entree, cutting before each opposed to slicing everything up ahead of time.


The best way to spoon soup is away from you, which avoids splashing. Don't crumble your crackers into your bowl, instead break a piece of and eat it before or after a spoon of soup. If your soup happens to contain noodles, it is acceptable to cut them with the edge of your spoon to create bite-sized pieces.


When eating a salad, if there are a few pieces that are too large for your liking, be sure to slice them ahead of time then place your knife (with the blade facing you) across your butter plate. Cherry tomatoes can be tricky and messy, it is best to pierce them with the sharpest point of your knife.


When eating any entree be sure to always eat bite by bite, avoid cutting all or large portions of your meal beforehand. Always be sure to point fork prongs downward, especially when cutting meat. Take small bites and avoid mentioning that you are "stuffed" or "really full" at the table as it is not classy to overeat.


Your dessert spoon or fork can be moved to the left side of your place setting as soon as your dinner plate is removed. When eating apple pie or any other dessert a la mode, it is proper to use both the fork and spoon. The fork is used in your right hand while a small dollop of ice cream can be added/pushed onto the forkful of pie with the spoon in your left hand.

A Final Note

As always, if you have been invited as a guest into another's home for a meal, it is polite to mail out a thank you card no more than 48 hours after attending the event. Of course, before leaving, be sure to thank the host in person for extending the invitation to you and thank the other guests at your table for their dining conversation.

Again, by no means is this a complete, exhaustive list, but these tips will lead you through any dining adventure with confidence!

Part 3 will continue next Monday and will conclude the Manners Monday series on dining. Consider this series your crash course on table etiquette. If you missed last week's post on Table Etiquette, be sure to read Part 1.

If you enjoyed this post, please pin it for future reference or to share the love! Do you enjoy entertaining? Maybe you prefer to dine out and leave the mess in someone else's kitchen. Does informal or formal describe your personal table setting style?


Let's Socialize!

Thank you for reading!


*image credits


  1. Being a new follower I will definitely be going to read the first in this series and look forward to next Monday's post.
    Karla ~ prior to my accident I had entertained and attended social functions from kicky back all goes girls nite -in to extremely formal black tie events. When it was my turn to entertain at Home I usually was semi-formal. BBQs I was insistant on glass and "real" plates - my friends always thought I was over the top - but to me it just needed that.
    The past 3 1/2 years as I have been recoperating I have not entertained.
    Your post came at a great time, to refreshen and remind me of proper tablesetting.
    Thank you ..HHL

  2. Hello Karla,

    I love to entertain and do so ranging from casual to formal. Even in my casual settings I prefer to use china. For our family meals I set an informal table and raised my boys to have proper table etiquette. I have not done much entertaining the past several months but hope to get back to it next year. When I am invited to another person's home I like to bring a hostess gift. Even if it is a close friend and I have dinner at their house 1 – 2 times a month, I will at least bring a bouquet of flowers or some other little something that I know he or she will actually appreciate or use. I also like to send a handwritten thank you note to the host/hostess of events or parties I have been invited to.

    I have enjoyed this series and look forward to the final installment.

    ~ Tracy

  3. Karla thanks a lot for this post .I love your blog :)

  4. I love entertaining, but we generally do informal meals. I have a large built-in buffet in my kitchen and I left guests serve themselves. I do, however, love setting a pretty table and creating centerpieces-they take the attention away from my less than stellar culinary skills!

  5. Amazing tips!! Printing this out to put in the kitchen for reference...

  6. I am saving this post for future dinner parties. One thing I never really knew was where the wine glass vs the water goblet went. Thank you. =)

    By the way, your button is now up on my blog. It looks wonderful. Thank you for placing mine up as well. It has been lovely working & communicating with you lately. I do look forward to more of it in the future. Have a beautiful day. =)

  7. Let's try this comment thing again :) Short version :)
    Love your tips, I'll be saving it for Christmas

    Love your new button as well, I'm slowly changing things out, takes awhile for me.
    Have a great weekend!

  8. Karla, I had to include this post in my weekly Cups of Tea. It will be up tomorrow (8/15) - so informative and very helpful. Thank you for such detail. I hope your weekend is going well. =)

  9. Really enjoying your blog. Found this post to be particularly valuable and informative! I posted a link on my Self Care Girl facebook page today. Engaging in elegance is definately good self care!

  10. Hi! I just came over from The Simply Luxurious Life. I love this post. It's been so many years since I learned these rules. This was a lovely refresher. Thanks so much for sharing!
    XO Piper

  11. Thank you to everyone that left a comment, I'm so glad that you found this article helpful and was flattered to hear that some of you even wanted to print it out! :)

    For all of my new readers and those that popped over for the first time, thanks for visiting! Thanks again to Shannon of The Simply Luxurious Life for featuring this post in her 'Cups of Tea' post today-so sweet!


  12. Did I ever told you that I'm a very "etiquette-a-ohlic"?!!! I always read your posts and I love your blog!!! Thanks for inspirations you give me! I'd like you to come and visit my blog www.ricevereconstile.blogspot.com
    thanks a lot!

  13. Hello Classy and Fabulous. Love your blogsite. Have linked you on my website at: The Magnolia School of Etiquette and Protocol in San Diego. Am "following" you and would love reciprocal at: facebook.com/magnoliaetiquette and Twitter @magnoliaetiquet. Thanks for delivering wonderful manners and etiquette tips.

  14. Great diagrams! I just pinned them & will be sharing them on The Creative Mama tomorrow! :) Thanks for sharing!

  15. Great tutorial and absolutely love the drawings!!! I hope you don't mind I pinned it on pinterest for my future reference and I'm now a follower :).

    Once I'm done decorating for my Mother's Day brunch and Easter dinner I would love to reference your sight in my posts for this proper place setting. Please let me know if there are any concerns about doing this.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Stephanie @AllArtful

  16. Hi! It seems like the images you used were taken from the Washington Post website... http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/artsandliving/homeandgarden/anatomy-of-a-table-setting/

    Will you please cite your sources? Thank you.

    1. Hello, Anonymous! Thank you for your comment, however the two images were not used from the link you provided. That post is ONLY an image with no personally written article text. I created this post in 2010 and found the image via google, even the colors used behind the words 'informal' and 'formal' are different. I do my best to cite all images used from Pinterest or otherwise. When it comes to written content, it is my own and if I am citing another blogger or author, I always cite my source and include a link. Cheers!

  17. I must admit.. I absolutely adore having a properly set table and such. However, with todays society, and with us teenagers and upcoming society, I fear this style of manerism shall die out. Which is why, I intend to do my best to learn proper etiquette and manners. Thank you taking the time to create this blog and such <3 ~ Tails

    1. Hi Tails! Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. :) I really appreciate your kind words. I too agree that it is only through making a conscious effort that we can continue to make proper manners and etiquette a priority, something to cherish for many decades to come.


  18. Hi Karla,

    Thank you for this blog post. I have been debating this very topic with a friend for the last few days so this is very helpful.

    One question: When I entertain at the dinner table I many times will only have one fork and one knife and then the dessert is served in another room. I don't like having a lonely silverware on either side of the dinner plate. Is it correct to place the knife and fork together on top of the napkin to the left of the plate? I have seen this at more modern and hip restaurants and no one seems to be aghast buy it.

    Cheers, Ernie

    1. Hi Ernie! Sorry for the delay in reply! Yes, that would be completely acceptable, especially when there are not multiple courses and it's a more straight forward meal.


  19. waoo! with the classy woman,i feel confident setting a table.

  20. Excellent Blog! This blog really helps to maintain and organized sterling silver flatware in an efficient manner. One can easily add elegance to family treasure using this wonderful idea. Thanks for sharing.

  21. I used Villeroy & Boch dinner set its awesome. A good crockery dinner sets looks elegant gracing your dining table and make every meal a joyous experience.

  22. Oh wow, this is adorable. I like those table decorations ideas. I like vintage events and would like to book vintage Los Angeles venues for my next event. There is an event planner I know who has expertise in arranging beautiful vintage events. So I’ll hire him!


Thanks for stopping by, your comments make my day! I read every single one and will answer any questions you have. I hope you'll visit again soon! :)


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