Setting a gorgeous table and knowing where everything goes simplifies serving and makes dining easier for guests. The rules of setting a table exist to make everyone confident in knowing what utensil to use at the appropriate time.
Only put out what is actually going to be used – avoid cluttering the table with any unnecessary items. As host, always think through what you are serving and then provide the necessary pieces.
At all settings, forks always go on the left of the dinner plate and knives and spoons on the right. Practicality is the basis for most of the rules – most people are right-handed and therefore wield their knife with their strong hand. The bottom of the dinner plate or charger is used as a guide to line up the cutlery. A serviette may be placed in the middle of the dinner plate or to the left of the forks.
Utensils are always placed in their order of use, outside in toward the dinner plate. Glassware or drinking vessels sit at the tip of the knife on the right-hand side. The water glass or goblet is always the closest to the knife, as it remains on the table throughout the entire meal. Additional glasses stand to the right of the water glass in order of use if multiple wines are to be served.
How to set a casual table
A casual meal has a starter or salad, a main course and dessert. The salad fork is placed outside the dinner fork to be used first. The bread and butter plate goes on the left. If it is breakfast or brunch, a mug or cappuccino cup could be put on the table and sits to the right of the water glass at the tip of the knife. A casual meal would not have more than one wineglass, and a tumbler could be used for water. Dessert utensils could be brought in with that course.
The casual table
Hover your mouse over the place settings below to see what goes where.
TIP: The most common table etiquette faux pas is using the wrong bread and butter plate. Your bread and butter plate is always on your left beside your forks.
How to set a formal table on page 2.How to set a formal table
A formal dinner starts with soup, followed by salad, a main course and then dessert. The dinner plate can sit on a charger, which stays on the table until the dessert course is served. Other plates, such as the salad plate, soup bowl and dinner plate, are placed on it. Forks are on the left in order of use. If salad is being served after the main course, then the salad fork will sit closer to the dinner plate. If more than one knife is required, it is placed outside the dinner knife. The bread and butter plate is to the left of the forks; at a formal dinner, a butter knife lies across the top of the plate with the tip facing left and the blade down. Bread and rolls should be broken with the fingers and then buttered in bite-size pieces with the butter knife. It does not go back on the butter dish, which should have its own knife. Soup is a popular first course for formal dining – the soup spoon sits outside the dinner knife, and the soup bowl should sit on another plate when it is brought in so that the spoon may be placed on it for removal. Cutlery is cleared away after each course.
At a formal dinner, the utensils for dessert sit across the top of the place setting, parallel to each other with a dessert spoon on top facing left and the dessert fork below facing right. Teacups and/or coffee cups and saucers are never on a formally set table – they are brought in with dessert along with the teaspoon.
Multiple wineglasses form a triangle to the right of the place setting above the knife, with the water goblet at the tip, the next glass used to the right (often white wine if fish or seafood is served first) and the third glass (for red) just beside it to be moved forward as required. To go from main course to dessert, everything except the water goblet and dessert cutlery is removed and the plated dessert and coffee service is brought in.
The formal table
Hover your mouse over the place settings to see what goes where.
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Martha McKee is vice-president of media,communications and visual presentation with Waterford Wedgwood Canada Inc.