How to CookTips & Techniques

How to Set a Table

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Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today: breaking down the art, or science, of setting the table. 

Glasses  Napkins

Setting the table can be a little nerve-wracking. There seem to be so many rules, who can keep track of them all? Now that the season of hosting is upon us, we thought it'd be helpful to break down the art, or science, of setting the table. We'll also give you maps for basic, informal, and formal place settings. 

The simplest rules of table settings: 

• Place utensils from the outside in, according to what you'll be using first (anyone who's seen Pretty Woman knows that one).
• Knife blades always face in, toward the plate.
• The water glass sits above the knife. 
• The fork generally sits to the left of the plate, with the napkin. 
• Spoons always go to the right of knives.  

The most important thing to remember: Relax. We promise that whenever you invite guests over for a home-cooked meal, they won't go away complaining about how you set your table. 

Basic Table Setting


The basic table setting is what most of us would use for weeknight dinners. No need for too many frills, unless you want them. 

The basic table setting includes:

• a dinner plate
• a fork, a knife, and a spoon
• a drinking glass and a napkin

If this is a casual weeknight affair, and you aren't serving a dish that requires a spoon, we won't tell anyone if you leave it off your table. 

Informal Table Setting


Maybe you're having a fancy brunch, or you're making a nice-but-not-too-nice dinner, and your menu includes three courses. The informal setting is what you're looking for. 

In this setting, you have: 

• A napkin resting where your dinner plate will go
• A salad fork and a dinner fork, arranged according to which dish you'll be eating first
• A soup spoon, if you're serving soup, a dessert spoon, and a dinner knife (yes, in that order)
• A salad bowl to the left of your forks
• The bread plate, with the appropriate knife, above the forks
• A water glass, a wine glass, and a tea or coffee cup

They say this is informal, read into that what you will. Looks fancy to us! 

Formal Table Setting


This is the setting for a holiday feast, or any other show-stopping meals you might serve. Let's pretend we're serving oysters, soup, salad, a fish course, and and entree.

Your setting will need: 

• A charger, or service plate, resting under the plate your first course will be served in
• A salad fork, a fish fork, and a dinner fork
• An oyster fork (which is the only fork that sits on the right of the plate), a soup spoon, fish knife, and a dinner knife
• Bread plate and butter knife above the forks
• A water glass, a white wine glass, and a red wine glass

 And after dinner, dessert and coffee or tea will be served with the proper serveware, of course. 

That big plate in the center is the charger. Food never touches it. While it does feel very formal, and etiquette dictates that it's a proper part of the formal table setting, we sometimes feel like it's just another dish to wash (and like they make more sense if you have a Downton Abbey-style kitchen staff making and serving your meals). If you have chargers, and like using them, more power to you. 

Dishes  Silverware  

Going Rogue 

There are some rules, like knife blades facing the plate, that we would never break but we're open to new ideas on the table setting front. How do you go rogue? Mix up the plates, or silverware? And are there any rules you stick to, no matter what? We want to hear about it. 

Tags: DIY Food, How-To & Diy, Kitchen Confidence