Pull off a polished place setting with a refresher from etiquette and event pros.

By Maggie Puniewska
Updated December 03, 2018
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Proper Place Setting
Credit: Kelsey Hansen

Setting the table for Thanksgiving and unsure of where the soup spoon should go? Or how much elbow room to give guests? No sweat. First, before you start bringing out your best china, take a look at what you’ll be serving. “Sometimes people get so caught up in etiquette rules that they put out utensils and dishes that sit unused,” says Daniel Post Senning, great-great-grandson of Emily Post, etiquette expert with the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vermont, and coauthor of the 19th edition of [tempo-ecommerce src="https://www.amazon.com/Emily-Posts-Etiquette-19th-Manners/dp/0062439251/" rel="sponsored" target="_blank"> Table space is often limited, so stick to what people will need to eat the meal well, which might change depending on what you’re having, he says. Most meals—yes, even Thanksgiving—call for just the basics: one entrée plate, one fork, one knife, a beverage glass, and a napkin for each guest. Here, an easy guide from etiquette and event experts to help you put it all together for a polished place setting.

1. Do a Practice Run

Set the table a day or two before so you have time to clean or polish. Include platters to see if you need a side table to fit everything, says Senning.

2. Mind the Gaps

Space out each element by about an inch. That’s roughly the width of an adult’s thumb or a child’s first three fingers. Leave ample space between settings to keep neighbors from knocking elbows.

3. Skip Dessertware

Since most sweet stuff comes out after dinner, wait until the table has been cleared before setting out fresh plates, says Stephanie Selaiden, director of events at Mattie’s at Green Pastures in Austin, Texas.

4. Master Placement Basics

To remember—or teach kids—the order of flatware, follow the FORKS acronym used by Emily Post. Starting from the left: F for fork, O for the shape of the plate, K for knife, and S for spoon (skip the R). Trying to recall where the bread plate and drinks go? Stand behind the chair and make the “OK” symbol with both hands. Your left hand will form a b, for bread, and your right hand will form a d, for drinks.