As the season changes, we leave behind outdoor summer barbeques to head inside for warming the home with a fantastic table setting for oven-baked turkeys, roasts, potatoes, and pies. We fall in love with the smell of fresh herbs and hearty home-cooked dinners. But, we also feel a tinge of panic as we realize fall and winter are jam-packed with transitioning-tasks designed to prepare for the change in the weather, holiday celebrations, and visiting family and friends. What to do?
Well, whether preparing to share family dinner together at every slim-chance possible, host a Thanksgiving feast for extended family, or ring in New Year’s Eve celebrating with neighbors, set realistic expectations. Organize with favorable table settings for all your gatherings that can be executed easily and with only a few decorative changes.
What Is a Table Setting?
Simply put, it refers to the proper way, according to etiquette, to set a table or a single place setting with utensils, plates, glasses, and serving dishes. Setting a table is not as difficult as we sometimes think it is because the process actually is logical and is guided by the menu. There are three different settings: basic, informal, and formal.
Which One of the Three Table Settings Is Used When?
Basic Table Setting
When we sit down as a family, dine at a restaurant, or feast on a holiday spread during large gatherings, the basic table setting is the most comfortable. It includes one fork, plate, knife, spoon, and glass.
Three tips to remember the order of utensils and plates when setting the table are useful for adults and children alike:
From left to right, the order is F for the fork; O for plate because it is shaped like a circle; K for the knife; and S for the spoon. Obviously, because there is no R, it remains silent.
2. Left-Handed ‘b’ and Right-Handed ‘d’
With your left hand, touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of your forefinger to make the letter ‘b,’ and repeat with the right hand to make the letter ‘d.’ This reminds us the ‘bread’ plate and knife are set to the left of the place setting, while the ‘drink’ glasses are placed at the top right above the knives and spoons, making it easier to reach for water, wine, or coffee.
3. Work from Outside-In
The easiest way to remember how utensils are set on the table is to remember they are set in the order of their use per the menu, from the outside-in.
Informal Table Setting
As you plan festive celebrations for the holidays, change it up a bit. With too many guests to offer a structured, sit-down dinner at Thanksgiving, opt for the basic table setting to accommodate a buffet’s flow. New Year’s Eve, however, will call for a bit more formality and a smaller guest list perhaps, so plan for the informal setting.
The informal setting builds on the basic setting and includes two forks, two glasses, and possibly bread plate with a butter knife, cup and saucer, and salad plate. This is best practiced for an informal but social three-course dinner. The menu would include soup, a salad, or an appetizer as a first course, entrée, and dessert.
1. Dinner Plate & Napkin
Set the dinner plate on the table, center of the seat, and place the napkin on top. This invites guests to pick up and place the napkin on their laps without disrupting the lovely setting.
As we learned with the FORKS trick, they are placed to the left of the dinner plate and in a specific order for convenience. With the smaller fork used first for appetizers or a salad, it is set on the outside. The dinner fork, the larger of the two, is set closest to the plate because it is used later.
The dinner knife is set to the right of the plate, always with the sharp blade facing inward. Why? So, when your guests instinctively reach for their knives, they do not accidentally cut themselves. If the main course is meat, then it is fine to use a steak knife for all courses.
A dirty knife should never be placed on the table, place mat, or tablecloth.
Like chopstick holders, a knife holder may be placed under the sharp knife to prevent it from scratching fine linens.
Soup and dessert spoons are placed to the right of the knife. Because soup is served before dessert, it is set on the far right, or outside. Since the dessert or teaspoon is used last, it is set between the knife and the soup spoon.
Spoons are typically used only for soup, fruit, or dessert and not for side dishes.
If soup is not on the menu, do not set out a soup spoon.
The inside glass is designated for water while the outside is for a beverage of choice.
6. Salad Plate
If a salad is part of the main course, it may be served on the dinner plate of informal table settings. The exception would be if the main course includes a dressing such as the gravy for potatoes or hollandaise sauce for salmon, then it is best to serve the salad separately. If served on a separate plate, place the salad plate to the left of the forks.
7. Bread Plate with Butter Knife
The bread plate rests above the forks, with the butter knife placed diagonally across the edge of the plate and with the handle on the right side, blade facing down. So, when reaching for the butter knife, it is a seamless transition to pick it up.
Set a bread plate and knife only if a bread is served.
8. Dessert Spoon and Fork
They can be placed horizontally above the dinner plate, with the spoon on top, handle facing to the right, and with the fork below the spoon, with the handle facing left.
9. Coffee Cup and Saucer
Similar to a restaurant table setting, the cup and saucer are placed to the right and above the knife and spoons but to the side of all other glasses.
Formal Table Setting
The Formal Table Setting is used at high-end restaurants that serve multiple courses and at home for dinner or holiday parties with more than three courses. The more formal setting is, basically, the informal place setting with additional glassware, dishes, and utensils for foods and beverages served with the additional courses. An example of a formal dinner menu is a shellfish appetizer, soup first course, a fish course, entrée, and salad, followed by dessert and coffee.
During a formal dinner, serving dishes are not placed on the table; the food is plated in the kitchen and served to the right of each guest.
1. Service Plate or Charger and Napkin
A large, decorative plate is placed under the plate reserved for the first course, which will be brought to the table and placed on top of the charger. When the first-course plate is cleared, the charger remains throughout all courses until the entrée plate is cleared with the charger.
The napkin can be placed to the left of the forks, under the forks, or on the charger.
2. Bread Plate with Butter Knife
The dynamic duo is no longer an option and is required.
All three are placed to the left of the dinner plate and to the left or right of the dinner fork, according to when each will be used.
If a fish course is served, this small fork is placed to the left of the dinner fork because it is used first.
Salad and Fish courses? Tricky. If the salad is served after the entrée, the salad fork is placed between the dinner fork and the plate. If the salad is served first, and fish second, then the forks are arranged (left to right): salad fork, fish fork, dinner fork, and plate.
The same protocol is used to arrange up to three knives. The large dinner knife is placed to the right of the dinner plate; a specially shaped fish knife is placed to its right, and the salad knife is set to the right of the fish knife if served before the fish or to the left of the dinner knife if served as the last course.
5. Soup Spoon for Fruit Spoon
Same set up as the informal setting.
Don’t let your vision get blurred with all the glasses. Above the knives and spoons, up to five glasses in total may be placed in the order they will be used. When there are more than three glasses, smaller glasses may be arranged in front. From outside-in: white wine glass, red wine glass, and water goblet.
When a champagne flute is provided for an opening toast, it is set to the right, preferably, or in front of the white wine glass. Glasses used for a specific course are then removed at the end of that course.
How Many Are Too Many?
Place no more than three of any implements in the table setting. The only exception to this rule is when shellfish is served; then an oyster fork is used in addition to the three other forks. This is the only fork that rests on the right side of the table, on the outside of all other utensils.
When more than three courses are served before dessert, the utensil for the fourth course, such as dessert, is brought in with that course or on the dessert plate just before dessert is served. Likewise, the salad fork and knife may be brought in with the salad course.
Importance of Proper Table Setting
Etiquette is a common code of polite conduct, is designed to show respect, and is meant to make everyone feel comfortable. The menu and proper table setting establish the atmosphere for socializing and ques guests into the formality of your gathering. The key to dressing the table for each occasion is understanding when and how the three different settings are most useful: basic, informal, and formal. As you see, the more courses, the more glass, dishes, and utensils so that the dining remains delightful and neat.
5 Table Setting Ideas
Fresh-cut flowers, candles, and music are three design elements that will swiftly create an inviting, engaging, and festive setting to draw in your guests:
A Versatile Table
Change the table’s centerpiece to change the theme or match the season. Change a centerpiece of fresh-cut sunflowers surrounded by petite pumpkins and gourds for autumn to poinsettias and pinecones for winter.
Display white roses cut low so that guests can see each. Complement the atmosphere with white candles in sparkling glass atop a long mirror, magnifying their glow.
Every holiday is filled with color, texture, and edible decorations. Buffets typically display dreamy dishes ornately on plates varying in shapes and heights, which adds interest. Little more is needed than a beautiful buffet runner and basket linens.
Layer with Natural Elements
Lay a woven place mate over a plaid tablecloth and accent a colorful charger with a beautiful napkin ring made of twigs, mistletoe, and a rustic bell.
Create a rich, beautiful setting with delicately shaped china. Accent within white, taupe, or pale blue linens, dried flowers, wine glasses, and romantic candles.
With so many flavorful aromas in the air from food, it’s best to use unscented candles.
For a more formal setting, use long, tapered candles in a candelabra.
A lovely table setting serves dual purposes. With subtle changes between basic, informal, and formal table settings, your guests will feel at ease and welcome and will be discretely guided through the impending dining experience.