How to Properly Set a Table


Setting the table for all types of events was once common knowledge. But hosting has changed and evolved, so this skill has fallen by the wayside — until now. If you’re hosting a holiday party, fancy dinner, or any other type of event, setting the table is going to be one of the key elements of the decor. 

To help you get started, explore these three table-setting styles for basic, casual, and formal affairs.

Setting a Basic Table

This table-setting style is for informal, everyday dinners and lunches with close friends and family. You want to set the table properly, but you don’t need to break out the fancy china just yet. You’ll need a placemat, dinner plate, cutlery, glass, and a napkin.



1. Place the mat down first

2. Put the plate in the center of the mat

3. Position the napkin to the left of the plate

4. Put a fork on the napkin

5. Place a knife on the right side with the blade pointing toward the plate

6. If you need a spoon, put it to the right of the knife

7. Position the glass above and to the right of the plate


For an aesthetic setting, make sure the bottom of the cutlery and the plate are level. You’ll also want to space the serving bowls and platters along the center of the table, so everyone has easy access.

Setting a Casual Table

The casual table setting is the ideal choice for a party with more than just your closest friends. You might be hosting a sit-down BBQ or laid-back dinner party with a few more courses. While the setting for this type of table is pretty similar to the basic setting, you should expect the addition of a soup or salad bowl and cocktail or wine glasses.



1. Follow the same steps as the basic table setting above

2. For meals with saladandsoup, place the salad plate down first and then the soup bowl

3. Put a water glass directly above the knife

4. Place the second glass to the right and slightly above the water glass

You might also be considering a charger plate for this setup. And while it’s not necessary, it can enhance the look of the setting without getting too formal as long as you use chargers with a rustic, casual feel.

Setting a Formal Table

Is it time for an elegant dinner party or a fancy holiday event? You’ll need to set up your table for formal occasions with presentation plates and higher quality cutlery, as well as a tablecloth, red and white wine glasses, bread and butter accessories, and dessert essentials.



1. Iron the tablecloth and set it on the table

2. Put a charger plate or presentation plate at every seat

3. Place the soup bowl on top of the charger plate

4. Arrange a bread plate to the top left of the charger plate

5. Lay the napkin on the left side of the charger plate

6. Put the dinner fork on the napkin closer to the plate and the salad fork on the outside

7. Place the knife on the right side of the plate, the blade facing in

8. Add the soup spoon to the right of the knife

9. Put the butter knife at the top of the bread plate, horizontally with the handle to the right

10. Arrange the dessert spoon above the charger plate with the handle to the right

11. Add the water glass directly above the knife

12. Place the white wine glass to the right and an inch below the water glass

13. Put the red wine glass to the right and slightly above the white wine glass


For meals with both soup and salad, you will clear the soup bowls away before bringing out the salad plates to take their place. After the salad course, clear away the charger plates and swap them out for a normal dinner plate. If the charger plate is an essential part of the decor, you can leave it in place and simply place the dinner plate on top of it.

Additional Accessories

Once your plate settings are ready, you’ll need to consider organizing the other essentials on the table. You’ll want salt and pepper shakers, butter, and other communal accessories within easy reach for everyone, so you may need to have two or three sets of these spaced out along the table.

Practicing Your Skills

Spacing and placement for your table settings will vary depending on the size of your tableware, the size and shape of your table, and how much room you have for guests. It’s a good idea to practice a few different configurations so that when it comes time to actually set the table, it’s effortless and stress-free

Our last tip? Maximize your options for a variety of table settings with a few extra tableware options that you can vary based on the event theme, season, and formality!

Tess DiNapoli

Tess DiNapoli is an artist, freelance writer, and content strategist. She has a passion for yoga and often writes about health and wellness, but also enjoys covering the fashion industry and world of fitness. ...(Read More)

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