Setting a formal dinner table properly need not be intimidating. Following a few simple rules can ensure that the table setting is both elegant and functional. Set only the pieces that will be used.


  • dinner plate
  • soup bowl or salad plate
  • bread plate
  • salad fork (if serving a salad rather than a soup)
  • dinner fork
  • dessert fork
  • knife
  • small spoon
  • soup spoon (if using a soup bowl)
  • butter knife
  • steak knife (if serving meat that requires this type of knife)
  • coffee cup
  • water glass
  • wine glass
  • liqueur class (when serving liqueur)
  • napkins

Napkin placement

In most formal settings, the napkin is placed in the center of the dinner plate. The exception to this is when a soup bowl is used, the soup bowl will be placed in the center of the plate. The napkin should then be placed to the left side of the dinner plate. Napkin rings may be used, but a nicely folded napkin is fine. Napkins should never be placed inside of glassware to avoid the possibility of leaving lint deposits inside the glass.

Plate ware

Dinner plates should be placed directly in front of the chair. Dinner plates are the center item in each place setting, and should be placed about two inches from the edge of the table. Salad plates are placed to the left of the dinner plate above the fork. Visualize the place setting as a clock face. The salad plate will be situated at eleven o’clock. Soup bowls, when used, should be placed in the center of the dinner plate. Dessert plates are generally not included in the table setting, as dessert should be served as an individual course.


Silverware, excluding the butter knife and dessert utensils should be lined up evenly with the bottom of the dinner plate. They should be placed approximately one-half inch away from the dinner plate. Silverware should be arranged in the order it will be used. Forks should always be placed on the left side of the dinner plate. Since the salad fork will be used first, it should be to the outside of the dinner fork. Knives and spoons should be on the right side. When using a steak knife, the cutting edge should face inward, followed in order by the regular spoon, then the soup spoon. Place butter knives directly on the bread plate. Dessert silverware is not placed alongside the dinner plate, but rather above it. Dessert spoons are to be placed directly above the dinner plate with the bowl portion of the spoon on the left. The dessert fork should be placed above the dessert spoon, with the tines on the right.


On the right side of the place setting, directly above the knife, will be the location for the water glass. Wine glasses should be placed on the right side of the water glass. Glasses for additional beverages should also be placed to the right side of the water glass. Coffee cups, on saucers, should be placed above the knife and spoon on the right side of the dinner plate. When viewing the place setting as a clock, the coffee cup will be placed at the one o’clock position.

Related Youtube Video:

Rules of Etiquette : How to Set a Formal Table


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