How to Set a Table: The Basics
Now that you’re aware of the simple-to-remember table-setting tips, the remaining fundamentals will come easily. In part two of our series, we cover some basic table etiquette as well as the elements that offer some flexibility.
Rules to Remember
- Be sure the table is set before guests arrive. This means that water should be in the glasses, butter on the table, and wine ready to be served. Napkins can either go on top of the plate, over the forks (if folded in a tent), under the forks, or to the left of the forks (if in a napkin ring).
- Ensure there is ample elbowroom by placing settings far enough apart that guests don’t bump each other but can still hold conversation. Two feet from the center of one plate to the next should suffice, or just over a foot between place settings, depending on the size of your plates.
- If there are more than six guests, or the table is very long, be sure to have more than one set of common utensils, such as salt and pepper shakers, to distribute about the table.
- If there is an odd number of guests, settings should go between those on the other side of the table, rather than facing each other and leaving a gap on one side.
- The salad plate may be placed either to the left of the fork or on the charger; if the salad will be served with the meal, it can even go directly on the dinner plate.
- For the main course, a steak knife can take the place of the dinner knife, if the entrée calls for it.
- The dessert spoon and fork can be placed either above the dinner plate or with the other main utensils next to the plate, where it would follow the rule of working your way inward; dessert utensils can also be distributed with the dessert itself.
- The coffee cup and saucer are placed above and to the right of the knives and spoons; whether they are on the table from the beginning or only appear at the end of the meal is up to the host.
The above table-setting guidelines can be applied to any type of event, although more formal affairs add an extra layer or two of complexity – but nothing that can’t be tackled with a few quick tips. Be sure to check back for our next post on table-setting guidelines for an informal event.