How To Set A Table – Formal & Informal

Regardless of the occasion at which you and your guests will be dining, you must make sure that you know how to set the table to a suitable standard. With many modern families rarely sitting together to eat a meal, it is a task that can be easily forgotten – if it was ever known at all.

Getting it wrong can mean – at best – you have to leave your meal and guests to retrieve one missing item and – at worst – you will be embarrassed that your guests are left uncomfortable by an awkward, inappropriate table setting.

This can be avoided by taking the time to recognise what makes a perfect table setting, which can easily be taken for granted.

Rather than panic after leaving setting the table to the last minute, take a moment to review our guide and discover how easy it is to get right.

The basic table setting

There are several components that are standard for setting any table, and a basic table setting only needs the bare minimum. This is the type of table setting that you would put in place for a casual meal with your immediate family or with your partner. A basic table setting will not require a table cloth or placemat, though you can use the latter if you choose.

  • If using, the placemat should be positioned squarely in place and the plate directly in the middle of it. Where there is no placemat, simply position the plate.
  • Place a folded napkin to the left of the plate and lay the fork on top of it with the prongs facing upward.
  • With the blade facing inward, lay the knife to the right of the plate.
  • The spoon must be placed to the right of the knife.
  • Place the glass above the plate and to the right so that it is aligned with the space between the plate and the knife.

For a basic table setting, you only need to set out cutlery and crockery that will be used, so omit the spoon if only a single course is intended.

How to set an informal table

A dining occasion being informal does not mean ignoring the need to set the table appropriately. There will be a certain amount of expectation from guests who need to be able to consume a complete meal without needing to request anything more. Similar to a basic table setting, you will not necessarily need a table cloth.

  • Position the placemat and place the plate in the middle of it.
  • Lay the folded napkin either on the plate or to the left of it.
  • Place the fork to the left of the plate either on the napkin or on the placemat.
  • Place the knife to the right of the plate with the blade facing inward.
  • Place the spoon to the right of the knife.
  • Put the water glass above the plate and to the right, aligned with the gap between the plate and the knife.
  • Put the wine glass – which must be for red or white as appropriate to the meal – to the right of the water glass.

How to set a formal table

If you are inviting people to a formal dinner party, they will have a certain expectation of what they can expect to find when they sit down.

Setting the table for a formal occasion will mean adding more than you would for a casual dinner. It gives you the opportunity to add some of the finer touches that seem to spend most of their time living in the cupboard.

  • Spread a clean, crisp tablecloth that is free from fold creases. If using a table runner, lay this on top and ensure that both are even.
  • If using charger plates, put this into position and place the dinner plate centrally atop this.
  • Put the salad plate onto the centre of the dinner plate.
  • Neatly roll the napkin and secure with a napkin ring before placing on the salad plate.
  • Put the dinner fork to the immediate left of the plates.
  • Put the salad fork to the left of the dinner fork.
  • Put the knife to the right of the plates with the blade facing inward.
  • Put the soup spoon to the right of the knife and the dessert spoon above the plates horizontally with the handle pointing to the right.
  • Position the bread plate above and to the left of the charger with the butter knife diagonally across the plate with the handle down and to the right.
  • Position the water glass in the same position as for a casual setting.
  • Place the white wine glass to the rear left of the water glass and the red wine glass to the right of that.

An alternative way to set the table is to only lay out the first course plate, with the plates being replaced with each new course.

In all cases, ensure the ends of the cutlery handles are aligned with the bottom of the plate in a straight line.

If using place cards, position these above the dessert spoon after writing the guest’s name on both sides.

With just a little know-how, you will be able to set the table in a way that will impress your guests and enable them to enjoy your meal.