All meals generally require the same basic utensils—plate, fork, knife, spoon, napkin, glass, etc. But the presentation of these items can not only provide a nice visual aesthetic but can also convey the formality of an event. While there are several ways to set the table, the majority are variations on three main table settings: basic, casual, and formal.
The basic table setting is what you most likely learned as child and were given the task of setting the table for dinner. A dinner plate was set either in the middle of a placemat or directly on the table with a fork to the left and knife and spoon on the right with the spoon on the outside. A glass was placed above and to the right of the plate while a napkin was either placed on top of the plate or folded and placed underneath the fork. This is what is referred to as the “basic” table setting since it is most commonly used in informal settings and contains all the basic cutlery and dinnerware needed for a meal.
If you are hosting a small dinner party or an informal get-together with friends, consider trying the casual table setting. It can add an elegant feeling to the meal without being too much. While there are more options for this setting, only set the table to accommodate what you are serving or what you will actually use for the meal. For example, if you are having salad but not soup, skip the bowl.
The dinner plate again goes in the center of the setting, either on a placemat or on the table. On top of the plate, place a salad plate and/or soup bowl. To the left of the dinner plate is dinner fork, resting on top of a folded napkin. To the right of the dinner plate is your knife followed by your spoon. In the upper righthand corner (relative to the dinner plate), place a water glass and wine glass.
The final main table setting is the formal setting. This is a setting you might see at an upscale restaurant, elegant dinner party, or even how you set the table on special holidays when you break out Grandma’s fine china. The most complex of the three, it also has a few options. For example, all plates and bowls can be set out at once and placed on top of each other, to be removed as the meal progresses or, like in restaurant settings, the dishes are added or removed from the table over the course of the meal. If you are having salad first, that plate may be either placed on top of the dinner plate and then set aside when ready for the next course or it can be placed directly on the tablecloth and removed completely from the table when ready to be replaced with the main meal.
An optional charger (a type of placemat) can be placed on top of the tablecloth to serve as anchor, tablecloth protector, and additional decoration for the table setting. On top of this is placed the dinner plate, salad plate, or soup bowl (or all three if you choose to stack them). To the left of the setting (starting furthest away from the plate and working in) are the salad fork and dinner fork with a folded napkin underneath. Above the forks, to the upper left of the charger is a butter knife resting on top of a small bread plate. To the right of the setting is the dinner knife (closest to plate) followed by the spoon. Above them, to the upper right of the place setting are a water glass, white wine glass, and red wine glass. Directly above the place setting is a dessert spoon placed horizontally so that it lies perpendicular to the cutlery on either side of the dinner plate. Depending on the event, there may be a place card bookended by personal salt and pepper shakers just above the dessert spoon.
This may seem like a lot (and it is) but your newfound knowledge is sure to impress your family and friends at the next gathering. And, if you’re ever in doubt about where to start with the cutlery when invited to your next meal, remember to always start on the outside and work your way in.