Setting the Table: The Do’s and Don’ts

April 13th, 2016 Table settings

In a world where people don’t always take time to sit down together for a meal, setting a proper table can seem like a quaint ritual: the fork on one side, knife and spoon on the other.

As young girls we were taught how to set a table. Of course most of our meals were informal, but we were always expected to set the table properly none-the-less, using the basic table setting method. We were also taught how to set a fancy table for more formal occasions, such as Easter or Thanksgiving dinner, or anytime we had special guests. We’ve carried this tradition into our own families, although we are admittedly much less formal most of the time. Weeknight dinners can be downright haphazard!

Despite busy modern lives, there is still something exceptionally beautiful, inviting and charming about a well set table. When you take the time to create a beautiful table setting, your guests feel special and welcomed. Whether it’s dinner for two or twelve, an attractive table adds a festive air regardless of the event and encourages diners to savor and enjoy every moment of the meal. Table setting may be somewhat of a “lost art”, but it’s a truly beautiful tradition that deserves to have a place in every family.

So, if you’re interested in the lost art of table setting, read on. We’ve put together this simple guide:

setting the table

The Basic Setting

This is the setting you can use for most occasions. Start with the dinner plate in the middle, and everything else arranged around it. As dinners get more formal, the basic setting will serve as the foundation for more complicated arrangements.

  • Place the fork to the left of the plate
  • Put the knife and the spoon to the right of the plate, with the knife closest to the plate, its blade facing the plate. The spoon should go to the right of the knife.
  • Place the drinking glass above the knife. Napkins can go on the plate, or under the fork in the informal setting.

The Informal or Luncheon Setting

Consider this an enhanced version of the basic setting:

  • If you’re serving salad, put the salad fork to the left of the dinner fork. If you’re not serving salad, but are serving dessert, you can use the salad fork as a dessert fork, placing it to the right of the dinner fork.
  • If soup is on the menu, put the bowl on the plate and the soup spoon to the right of the beverage spoon.
  • Put salad or bread and butter plates above the forks and to the left. The butter spreader should go across the butter plate.
  • Coffee cups and saucers should go above the spoons, with the handle of the coffee cup facing right. Put wine or water glasses to the left of the coffee cup.

Setting the table

The Formal Setting

To use this setting, start with the informal dinner setting and add these pieces:

  • If you’re serving red and white wine, place them — along with the water glass — to the left of the coffee cup.
  • Beverage, soup and/or dessert spoons go to the right of the knife. To save room, you could also bring soup and dessert spoons to the table as you serve those courses.
  • To spruce up your setting, consider putting a charger under the dinner plate.

Once you have the fundamentals of setting your table figured out, consider taking a few extra steps – from the website Taste of Home –to make your next sit-down dinner special:

  1. Do: Keep your guest list small. It will make things easier on you, and keep things more relaxed. Make some place cards so people know where to sit and can learn each other’s names.
  2. Don’t be afraid to unbox your best china, crystal, silver and linen. It’s a special occasion!
  3. Do: Have a centerpiece on your table, but make sure it isn’t so tall – no more than 12 inches – that guests can’t look at each other across the table.
  4. Don’t: Do everything in one room. Serve beverages and/or appetizers in your living room before everyone moves to the dining room. It gives you one less course to bring to the table.
  5. Do: make sure water goblets are filled and bread and butter is ready to be passed before guests are seated. If you’re serving salad, fill individual plates and put them at each setting. You may want to consider refrigerating the salad plates for a few hours to keep the greens crisp.
  6. Don’t: Have cold plates. Are your dinner plates oven safe? If so, warm them in your stove on the lowest setting while you’re having salad and bread. If they aren’t safe for the over, run the plates under hot water and then dry before putting food on them.
  7. Don’t: Let plates pile up. Clear plates and utensils as guests finish their salad and bread courses, then prepare and garnish the dinner plates in the kitchen. Before dessert, clear all other dishes, including extra glasses, salt and pepper shakers and condiment dishes.
  8. Don’t: Wash dishes while you still have guests. Wait until they leave to begin clean up.

If you’re looking to spruce up your table settings, Piper Classics can help. Our line of country décor items includes placemats and napkins, country tablecloths, and country dinnerware to help you set the table for your next meal.