Creating a beautiful table is all part of the dining experience, but what is the right way to do it? Most table settings follow the same rules and etiquette of cutlery, glass, and tableware placement. However, there are some differences between laying the table for casual and formal occasions, and once you know the right etiquette, the process can become a breeze.
Whether you're hosting a dinner party, getting ready to serve your evening meal, or preparing brunch for the girls, a stunning table setting can make all the difference. In this guide, we’ll be showing you how to set:
• A casual table
• A formal table
• A table for dessert
We'll tell you exactly where to lay your cutlery, tableware, and drinkware, so you can create the perfect backdrop for every occasion.
How To Set A Casual Table
Whether you're serving up a celebratory breakfast, enjoying Sunday lunch with the family, or have prepared your favourite dishes for a Saturday night in, your everyday meals are usually quite relaxed events, meaning you can opt for a casual table setting. This usually focuses on only one or two courses, so you won't need to lay out any dessert cutlery or wine glasses.
For a basic table set up, it's a good idea to only lay out the tableware and silverware you'll use. Casual table settings will usually need:
• Placemats (optional)
• Dinner plates
• Side plates and bowls (optional)
• Knives and forks (spoons are optional)
• Water glasses or tumblers
• Napkins (optional)
• Salt and pepper shakers
• Any extras such as serving dishes, butter dishes, and gravy boats
For breakfast, add:
Once you've got everything together, it's time to start laying the table. The step-by-step instructions below will tell you how to set a table for dinner, lunch, and breakfast, so you can make any everyday occasion feel just that little bit more special.
1. If you're using them, lay a placemat at each seat, leaving at least 30cm between them to give each diner enough room.
2. Lay your dinner plates at the centre of each placemat or place setting, leaving an inch of space between the rim of the plate and the bottom edge of the table.
3. If you're using side plates or bowls, for example for bread, salad, soup, or cereal, these can go either on top of your dinner plates or to the left of your place setting.
4. Lay forks to the left of the plate and knives to the right with their bottoms aligned with the bottom rim of the plate. If you're using spoons, these should go to the right of the knife.
For a casual table setting, you might choose to place your silverware all on one side. In this case, they should sit to the right of your dinner plates, with the fork on the left, spoon to the right, and knife in the middle.
5. If you're using napkins, these should be folded and placed underneath the forks or to the left of them. If you're laying all your cutlery on one side, your napkin should sit underneath your silverware. You can also lay your napkins on top of the dinner plates.
6. Place your glassware at the top right corner of your place setting. If you're also using tea or coffee cups, for example at breakfast, these should sit in the top right just below your glasses.
7. Add any extras, such as serving dishes, to the centre of the table.
Points to remember
Knives and forks should face the right way: The tines of the fork should be facing up, while the blade of the knife should face the plate.
Avoid hiding your silverware: To avoid hiding the cutlery below the rim of the plate, it's a good idea to leave an inch of space between your silverware and the plate.
Cater to left-handed diners: Most table settings are designed for right-handed diners, which means knives and drinking glasses are usually placed on the side that is most natural for the body to reach. If you know you're catering to a guest who is left-handed, then it's a good idea to swap your cutlery and glasses to the opposite side.
How To Set A Formal Dinner Table
Some occasions call for a more formal table setting. If you're hosting a dinner party or would like to make the meal feel more special, such as for a birthday or anniversary dinner, or a wedding breakfast, then you might want to add a few more touches to your formal table set up. For example, you may need to provide extra silverware, as well as some decorative tablecloths, candles, and a centrepiece.
It's important that your table place setting has all the cutlery and tableware you need for each course, so you can enjoy your meal and company with minimal distractions. However, just as with a casual table, a formal table setting should only include the tableware and silverware that you need.
This kind of table should include:
• Placemats or charger plates
• Dinner plates
• Salad plates (these can be anywhere from 7 to 8.5 inches in diameter)
• Side plates (also known as bread plates) or soup bowls
• Butter knives
• Soup spoons
• Salad knives and forks
• Dinner knives and forks
• Dessert forks and spoons
• Water glasses or tumblers
• Wine glasses
• Salt and pepper shakers
• Any extra serveware such as serving dishes, butter dishes, soup tureens, and gravy boats
When it comes to laying the table for a formal dinner, there are a few points to remember, such as where the extra utensils go and the proper etiquette. The step-by-step instructions below will outline how to lay a table for dinner parties or formal occasions, so you know exactly where everything goes.
1. Lay out your tablecloth if you're using one.
2. Set your charger plates or place mats in the middle of each place setting, leaving at least 30cm between each one.
3. Add the dinner plates on top of the charger plates or place mats.
4. Lay the salad plates on top of the dinner plates. If you'll be serving soup, then the soup bowl should take the place of the salad plate.
5. Place the bread plates in the top left of each place setting and lay the butter knife horizontally on top.
6. Place the dinner forks to the left of the dinner plate and the dinner knives to the right, leaving an inch of space between the rim of the plate and the utensil. Make sure the bottoms of your knives and forks line up with the bottom rim of the plate.
7. Set the salad forks to the left of the dinner forks and the salad knives to the right of the dinner knives.
8. If you're having soup, place the soup spoons to the right of the salad forks.
9. Lay the dessert forks and spoons above the dinner and salad plates, with the fork closest to the plate and the spoon above it. The tines of the fork should be facing the right and the bowl of the spoon should face to the left.
10. If you're using place cards, lay these just above the dessert spoon.
11. Add the water glasses to the upper right corner of the place setting.
12. Place your wine glasses just behind the water glasses.
13. Fold the napkins or use napkin rings and place them either to the left of the salad fork or on top of the salad plates. You could also fold them and place them on top of the bread plate.
14. Any extras, such as serving dishes, should be placed on the table as the food is being served.
Points to remember
Lay your cutlery in order: You'll want to set the cutlery on the table in the order that they'll be used, so the silverware you'll use first will be on the outside and you can work your way inwards.
Knives and forks should face the right way: While in some European countries the forks are laid with their tines down, here in the UK the tines of the fork should face upwards. The blade of the knife should always point towards the plate.
Red wine goes behind white: It's a good idea to have both red and white wine glasses on the table so guests can choose which drink they'd prefer. White wine glasses have a smaller bowl than red wine glasses and go closest to the water glass. The red wine glass should sit just behind the white wine glass.
Cater to left-handed diners: Just as with a casual table, formal dinner table settings are laid for right-handed diners. If you or any of your guests are left-handed, then swap your cutlery and glasses to the opposite side.
How To Set A Table For Dessert
(Image features Pale Blue Felicity collection)
Once you've finished your main meal and have cleared everyone's plates and cutlery, you might be ready for dessert. Proper laying the table etiquette means you'll put dessert cutlery with the rest of your place settings, which can minimise disruption between each course. However, it's not uncommon to clear the table and prepare the place settings for dessert just before it is served, for example if you'll be retiring to another room to relax or enjoy some entertainment before your final course.
For a dessert table setting, you'll need:
• The glassware remaining from your main meal
• A dessert plate — these are usually around 8" to 10" in size depending on your dessert. We have plenty of dinner plates and side plates that would be perfect.
• A dessert fork and dessert spoon
• Teacups & saucers, coffee cups, or demitasse espresso cups
Dessert should always be served on a small plate unless it has a lot of sauce, in which case you would use a shallow bowl, such as a dessert bowl.
A table setting for dessert is usually quite simple. Each place setting should be cleared with the exception of glassware, which should remain in place.
The steps below will outline how to do table place settings your final course.
1. Place your dessert plate or bowl in the centre of the place setting.
2. Lay the dessert fork and spoon above the plate or bowl, with the fork closest to the plate and the spoon above it. The tines of the fork should face the right side of the place setting, while the bowl of the spoon faces to the left.
3. If your guests are having tea or coffee, then place their teacup, coffee cup, or demitasse cup on a saucer to the right of their dinner plate just below the glasses.
4. Place any serving dishes, such as cake stands or cake plates, in the centre of the table.
(Image features Black Regal Peacock collection)
Whatever the occasion, our advice on how to lay a table should help you make your next casual or formal event feel a little bit more special.
Now you know how to properly set a table, you can start getting creative with your décor. Why not mix and match your tableware and centrepieces to create a dinner table to impress? Here at Burleigh, we have a wide range of beautiful tableware, options to build your own dinner sets and stylish serving dishes that would be perfect for both formal and casual occasions.
All of our tableware has been handcrafted in the Middleport Pottery right here in the UK. Our expert craftspeople decorate each one by hand to exacting standards, making every piece unique.