Proper Way to Set a Table

Last Updated on September 20, 2022 by Ellen Christian

Do you know the proper way to set a table? Learn more about how to set a proper table for dinner with these simple to follow tips and illustrations.

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How to set a proper table

How to Set a Proper Table

When I was younger, one of my chores was to set the table for dinner each night. My Mother was insistent that I learned how to set a proper table. She said if I was ever invited to have dinner with the Queen, she didn’t want me to embarrass myself by using the wrong silverware for the wrong course.

 I never did get invited to have dinner with the Queen, BUT, I did learn how to set a proper table just in case. If you ask my husband, as long as the table contains plates and silverware, it really doesn’t matter how it’s set.  I disagree and made sure that the kids knew how to set a proper table as well.  I’m not sure it’s something that they will take with them in the future, but at least they know how it should be set if they have to.

Formal vs informal table setting

Since it’s unlikely I’m going to actually have dinner with the Queen, I have always focused on the informal table setting instead of the formal table setting.  A formal table setting would have a dessert spoon, cake fork, place card and bread plate with knife. Since we aren’t quite that formal when we eat dinner, the informal table setting works just fine.

Start outside and work in

The most important thing to remember is that you start on the outside and work your way in when deciding which silverware to use.  Forks go on the left of the plate.  The knife and spoons go on the right.

The napkin is folded and placed to the left of dinner plate.  The water glass goes at the top right hand corner near the knife. When you eat dinner, you start with a salad or soup.  The salad fork goes on the far left and then the dinner fork next to the plate.  

The soup spoon goes on the far right, then the teaspoon, and then the knife closest to the plate. The salad plate is set on top of the dinner plate. The soup bowl will be placed on top of the salad plate.

Proper way to set a table for dinner

When the meal is served, the order should be bread, soup, salad, entree, and then dessert.  Everything is in order so your soup bowl is removed to reveal your salad plate when you are done. Your salad plate is removed to reveal your dinner plate when that is finished.

When each course is complete, the server will remove the associated plate or bowl along with the silverware you used for that course.  In a formal table setting, the dessert spoon and cake fork will be on the table, in an informal table setting, they will be brought with the dessert course.

If the hostess is offering coffee or tea, the cups and sometimes saucer will also be brought at that time.

The table setting used in this example is the Lenox Collage Butterfly by Alice Drew.  The 4-piece table setting includes a dinner plate, accent plate (for bread or salad), all purpose bowl (for soup) and mug for coffee or tea. Alice Drew found her inspiration for the pattern of this table setting in the designs of damask and brocade fabrics.

The flowers and butterflies are perfect for a spring or summer dinner party or even an informal lunch. This pattern is part of their casual dinnerware line.

This stoneware has a strong and durable ceramic body that is both dishwasher and microwave safe. It has a look that would work for an elegant dinner party with the durability of family dinnerware.

11 thoughts on “Proper Way to Set a Table”

  1. I think I'm mostly doing it right, except I never have more than one glass cuz I'm not a fancy girl. :)
  2. I taught my kids very early on that when you go out to a nice restaurant, you start eating with the utensils that are farthest to the outside. Salad fork is on the outermost left hand side...then comes dinner fork, then dessert fork....Never know when they might need to know that!
  3. I've never really known how to properly set a table. I think we might have learned (once upon a time) in home-ec but I've completely forgotten. Thanks for the easy to follow tips, and the photo for reference!
    • If it is a butter knife, it goes across the bread plate which goes above your fork. If you are using a table knife instead of a steak knife, it would go in the place of the steak knife.
  4. I love hosting dinner parties! This is extremely helpful! Now I just need new place settings and utensils.
  5. I learned this as a child, bless my grandmother, but have forgotten some of the placing points. Thanks for the refresher, this will come in handy when entertaining this Summer!

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