November 21, 2016 Kim Cox

Table Setting 101: Perfect Place Settings

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With the upcoming holidays, many of you will be called upon to set the table for the family meal. Not saying that you need it, but just in case, let’s refresh ourselves on the basics of table setting.

Usually, I am showing you how to set pretty tables.  Today I want to show you how to set a proper table.  If your “Emily Post” aunt comes to dinner, we’re not giving her anything to talk about. Let’s get to it!

Back to the Basics!

Linens – Tablecloths, Napkins, Table Runners and Placemats

Place setting

A formal place setting. 

Linens are a lovely way to add texture and sometimes color to your table. They can be rustic or elegant – it’s your choice, depending on the type of table you are setting.

To cover or not to cover, that is the question…

Oftentimes, tablescape designers cover the table with a tablecloth, but this is not necessary – you can also use placemats. The choice is yours, but you must choose one or the other; placemats are to be used on bare tables and should not be used along with a tablecloth.

Table runners, on the other hand, can be used either on a bare table, or with a tablecloth. Table runners are a great way to add a pop of color or interest to a table.

Napkins are a necessary element of the table setting, lest your guests resort to using your tablecloth to wipe their mouths. (Horrors!) Give your guests the benefit of civility and provide them with napkins.  Napkins are generally placed to the left of the forks, but this is not a hard and fast rule.  Consider  wowing your guests with a fancy napkin fold.  They are surprisingly easy to create. (Tutorials coming soon!)



The plate stack: Charger plate, dinner plate, salad plate. 

The centerpiece of a table setting is the dinner plate. Sometimes you may see the dinner plate sitting atop a charger plate.  Charger plates are not necessary to a place setting and are decorative only.  No food should be served directly on a charger  and it should be removed before the entree is served.

The other element of the plate stack is the salad plate. Salad plates go on top of the dinner plate.  The salad may be pre-set or not, depending on your dinner plan.

Bread plates go on the left of the plate, above the forks and the spreader rests atop the bread plate.

If you are serving soup, the salad plate should be removed. The soup bowl goes on top of the dinner plate – not on top of the salad plate. If you are serving soup and salad, wait and bring out the salad already on the salad plate.

If you are serving dessert, you have the option to put the cake fork and dessert spoon directly above the plate.   You may also choose to bring the dessert utensils when the dessert is served.


Table settingSoup will be served at this table.  The soup bowl sits on the dinner plate and the soup spoon in to the far right.  

Oddly enough, the forks are placed to the left of the plate, although most people are right handed. The larger fork is the dinner fork, which is placed closest to the plate.  If you are serving salad, the salad fork should be placed to the left of the dinner fork.

On the right side of the plate, the knife is placed closest to the plate, with the blade facing the plate – you never want your knife blade facing another dinner guest. If you are serving steak or another difficult to cut item, add a steak knife to your place setting, just to the right of the dinner knife. To the right of the knives is the teaspoon. If you are serving soup, your soup spoon is placed in the outermost position.

All flatware should align with the bottom of the charger if one is being used, or with the bottom of the plate, which should be approximately two inches from the table.



Place settings

Left to right: water goblet, red wine glass, white wine glass.  

Stemware goes to the upper right of the dinner plate, with the water goblet above the knife. If you are serving red wine, it goes to the right of the water goblet and if white wine is also being served, it goes to the right of the red wine glass.




Place settings

Tip #1

Have you ever been at a banquet table where the place settings kind of run into the next one and you can’t tell which bread plate and glass belongs to you or your neighbor? Here’s a  jingle to help you remember: “runny on the right, lumpy on the left.”  Your glass will be on your right, and your bread plate will be on your left.

Think about it….

If your glass were placed to the left of your plate, there’s a real good chance that you would accidently spill  water on your dinner! It’s plain logic.  The glasses are placed on the right to make it easy for you to get to them accident free.

Tip #2

You should never have utensils on your table that you will not use. That being said, you should be able to look at a table setting and tell what you will be eating.

What four food items are being served at this meal? Answer in the comments.

Place settings

Happy Holidays!

Enjoy your holiday at your beautifully set table!

Place settings


Other hostessing tips from

How to be a Gracious Hostess

Don’t Just Set A Table, Create a Tablescape

Transform Grocery Store Flowers Into Stunning Bouquets

Photo credit: KimThomas of

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