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How to Set a Formal Table

by Staff Writer

Formal dinnerware

Things You Need:

  • Linen tablecloth
  • Linen napkins
  • Silverware
  • Dinnerware
  • Stemware
  • Centerpiece

Whether you're planning a formal dinner party at home or need to know the proper way to set a formal table for a larger event, such as a wedding reception or charity event, you'll need to know the items to include and the steps to follow to get it right. If you've never done it before, don't worry; no experience is necessary. You will need enough formal dinnerware, also known as place settings, as well as enough flatware and stemware to accommodate each of your guests.

Setting a Formal Table:

  1. Before you begin setting out the dinnerware, first things first. Drape a freshly laundered and ironed tablecloth over the table. A white tablecloth is the most classic choice for formal tables.

  2. Arrange the centerpieces on the tables. The general rule of thumb for centerpieces is that you need one centerpiece per round or square table and multiple centerpieces evenly spaced along each rectangular table. Centerpieces should not be so tall that your guests cannot see over them.

  3. Place a dinner plate or charger on the table in front of each chair. Dinner plates should be set approximately two inches from the edge of the table.

  4. Space the flatware about one-half inch from the plate and two inches from the edge of the table.

  5. On the right side of the plate, place up to three knives -- for first course, main course and salad -- with blades facing inward, followed to the right by the soup spoon. On the left side of the plate, place up to three forks -- for first course, main course and salad -- the salad fork being furthest left. At the top of the plate, place the dessert spoon with the stem end to the right and the dessert fork above it with the stem end on the left.

  6. Place the salad plate to the left of the dinner plate, above the forks.

  7. Place bread plate on the right side of the dinner plate, above the knife setting, left of the glassware and higher than the salad plate. If there's no salad course, place the bread plate on the left side, above the fork setting. Place the butter knife across the bread plate.

  8. If there is a soup course, place the soup bowl on top of the dinner plate.

  9. Place the stemware above the knives in the following order from left to right: water glass, white wine glass, red wine glass and champagne flute.

  10. Place a coffee cup and saucer to the right of the knives and spoon on the right side of the saucer.


  1. Place a folded napkin in the center of the dinner plate if no soup is being served. Otherwise, place the napkin to the left side of the forks rather than placing it in the soup bowl. Bon appetit!

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