A woman is greeting a couple at a dinner party.

How to set the table for a dinner party

When it comes to dinner parties, the little details can make or break your evening. This is true for both casual and formal events. When you have a low key gathering with friends, you want your table to look its best. Meanwhile, an immaculate and well-presented table setting will impress people like your in-laws at a formal event.

We’re going to break down the details of place settings in a minute, but here’s the big picture: at its core, setting places at the table is about elegance and function.

  • The utensils you use first are placed outermost.
  • The dish you use first is at the top of the stack.
  • Water and drink glasses are easy to reach without dragging your sleeve across a plate.

How do you turn these general tips into a full place setting? Here’s some advice from Nicole O’Neil:

Silverware setting infographic

Informal Settings:

  1. Start with the dishes in reverse order of when the courses will be served. If you’re serving soup, salad, and dinner, then you’ll want the soup bowl atop the salad plate with the dinner plate at the bottom.
  2. To the left, place a folded napkin.
  3. The forks go atop that, salad fork to the leftmost because salad is served first.
  4. To the plates right is the dinner knife and soup spoon, with the spoon outside.
  5. The edge of the dinner knife faces your plate and the point faces away from you.
  6. Have the water and wine glass above and slightly to the right of the plates.
  7. If you’re serving tea after dinner, set out a teacup and saucer to the right with a teaspoon below them.


Formal settings

To make the setting formal, follow the informal setting rules with a few key changes:

  1. Have a bread plate, with bread knife on it, set above the forks to the left.
  2. The dessert spoon and dessert fork go above the plates, facing opposite directions, The spoon goes on top.
  3. If you’re serving red and white wine, the white wine glass is rightmost.
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