How To: Set a Formal Table

Setting the table for a formal dinner party shouldn’t be intimidating. Follow a few basic rules of thumb and you’ll be on your way to an elegant evening.

Setting the table for a formal dinner party shouldn’t be intimidating. Follow a few basic rules of thumb and you’ll be on your way to an elegant evening.

What You Need

  1. Check Table
  2. Check tablecloth
  3. Check china (including chargers)
  4. Check napkins
  5. Check flatware
  6. Check stemware
  7. Check salt and pepper shakers
  8. Check flower arrangement

Follow These Steps

  1. Lay the tablecloth

    Smooth an ironed tablecloth evenly over the table.

  2. Set the plates

    Set a charger (otherwise known as a presentation plate) on the tablecloth at each place. On top of the charger, place a dinner plate, and center a soup bowl on top of each plate. The salad plate will replace the soup bowl when it is cleared. Place a bread plate at the top left of each charger. (If the charger were a clock, the bread plate would hover between 10:00 and 11:00.)

    Tip: The charger is traditionally meant to hold a spot for the dinner plate—so the place setting is never left bare—and is removed after the salad course.

  3. Lay the napkins

    Place the napkin to the left of the charger. (You may place the forks directly on top of the napkin or, if you have room, between the napkin and the charger. In that case, the forks will be placed directly on the tablecloth.)

  4. Place silverware on both sides of the plates

    Place the flatware in the following order from left to right: Salad fork, then dinner fork to the left of the plate; knife, then soup spoon to the right. Place a butter knife horizontally across the top of the bread plate, with the handle pointing to the right, and a teaspoon directly above the charger, with the handle to the right. (This will be the dessert spoon.)

    Tip: The vertical pieces of flatware that flank the charger should be evenly spaced, about a half inch apart, with the bottom of each piece aligned with the bottom of the charger.

  5. Place stemware above the knife and spoon

    Place the water glass on the right side of the charger, directly above the top of the knife. To its right and slightly down toward the spoon, place the white wine glass. To the right of the wine glass, place the red wine glass.

    Aha! People typically reach for water more often than wine, which is why the water glass is closer to the diner and thus more easily accessible.

  6. Set salt and pepper shakers and flowers

    Place salt-and-pepper shakers near the center of the table, and add an elegant flower arrangement for decoration.