Setting a table is a great way to elevate a meal, regardless of whether you’re having a formal dinner or a casual lunch with friends. Sometimes you may even want to enhance meals for your enjoyment. For many people, table setting remains a skill that they never had the opportunity to learn. Some people believe that table setting has too many rules for them to learn, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many of the rules of table setting are simple to remember and easy to follow.

Utensils and Flatware

One of the things about table setting that confuses people the most is the number of utensils and their various uses. Thankfully, one of the basic rules of table setting is to never include a utensil that won’t be necessary for the meal. Each table setting method generally requires different tableware. A traditional flatware set contains a soup spoon, table knife, table fork, dessert spoons, dessert knives, dessert forks, and a teaspoon. Tableware can include a service plate, butter plate, and serving dishes. There may also be various other implements depending on the meal. You may also need a placemat and tablecloth.

flatware placemat plate rustemgurler / Getty Images


Things to Remember

When setting a table, there are a few easy rules to remember. The first rule is to picture the word “forks.” From left to right, the placement order follows F for forks, O for the plate, K for knives, and S for spoons. Additionally, place the utensils in the order that the diner will use them. The diner will use the outside utensils before the inner ones. To remember which side is for drinks and which side is for bread, touch the tips of your index fingers to the tips of your thumbs. Your left-hand makes a “b” for bread and butter while your right-hand makes a “d” for drinks. Therefore, bread and butter go on the left while drinks sit on the right. Finally, the sharp edges of the knives always face the plate.

forks plate utensils HowardOates / Getty Images


Basic Table Setting

A basic table setting is very easy and straightforward. This makes it easy to prepare for an everyday meal. You’ll only need a placemat, flatware, a dinner plate, a napkin, and a drinking glass. First, lay the placemat on the table and center the dinner plate on it. Place the napkin about an inch to the left of the plate. Following the FORKS rule, place the fork on the napkin. To the right of the plate, place the knife with the blade pointing at the plate. Then place the spoon to the right of the knife. Your drinking glass should sit just above and to the right of the plate.

forks knife spoon setting kyoshino / Getty Images


Basic Table Setting Etiquette Extras

In general, a basic table setting doesn’t have any rules of etiquette because its purpose is for a simple meal. As a variation, you can begin the meal with the napkin on the plate. However, some people feel that this makes the meal feel too formal. Additionally, it becomes harder to serve the meal as you are working with a single piece of tableware. If you require multiple dishes, consider moving to the casual table setting method.

napkin plate casual evemilla / Getty Images


Casual Meal Setting

In many ways, the casual table setting is a simple variation on the basic table setting. It follows the same rules as the basic table setting but includes more tableware. First, lay your placemat on the table with the dinner plate in its center. Then place the salad plate on top of the dinner plate. If your meal begins with a soup course, place the soup bowl on top of the salad plate. The napkin sits on the left side of the dishes, with the forks laying on top. If you are eating a salad, your salad fork should be on the left of your dinner fork. Set the knife and then the spoon on the right side of the plate. You can place your glass directly above the knife. If you’re having multiple drinks, place the second glass to the right and slightly above the first.

casual table setting utensils diane39 / Getty Images


Casual Table Setting Extras

For a casual table setting, you can make slight variations depending on your guests and the available kitchenware. For example, if each diner will have exclusive salt and pepper shakers, you can place the shakers at the top of the placemat. If the diners will share them, place the shakers at the center of the table. If your table is long and rectangular, try placing two sets on the middle of each end.

salt pepper shakers center Elecstasy / Getty Images


Formal Dinner Changes

When people think of the overly complex table settings, it’s usually a result of the formal dinner table setting. Generally, formal dinners consist of three courses and therefore have more plates and flatware. Additionally, you will usually forgo placemats and instead use serving plates. Most people refer to these plates as “chargers.” Though it might seem complex, a formal dinner table setting is not that different from the casual and basic table settings.

formal dinner setting rules wundervisuals / Getty Images


Formal Dinner Table Setting

To begin, lay an ironed tablecloth across the table and set a charger at each seat. Place a soup bowl on top of the charger. Set the bread plate above and to the left of the charger with the napkin slightly below it. Your butter knife lays across the butter plate with the edge facing towards the diner. Place the salad and dinner forks on the left and right side of the napkin, respectively. On the right side of the charger, place the dinner knife and the soup spoon. Above the charger, set a dessert spoon horizontally with its handle pointing to the right. Salt and pepper shakers go above the dessert spoon. Your glass sits just above the dinner knife. Set the white wine glass to the right and slightly below the first glass. Red wine glasses sit above and to the right of white wine glasses.

formal table setting Canakris / Getty Images


Five-Course Table Setting

If you’re having an elaborate five-course meal, you’ll need more utensils and tableware. As a result, the five-course table setting is a slight variation of the formal dinner table setting. First, follow the formal dinner table setting instructions. Add a Champagne flute slightly behind the white wine glass. You can add a sherry glass just below your red wine glass. If there will be a fish course, include a fish fork between the dinner and salad forks. You’ll also need to place a fish knife between the soup spoon and the dinner knife.

five course table setting tomazl / Getty Images


Breaking the Rules

Most of the rules of table setting are set in stone, and you’re not meant to change them. However, the world grows and changes, and so do our traditions and rules. Normally, table settings are simple and elegant with white tableware and silver flatware. However, you should feel free to change it up and personalize your dining experience with different colors and styles. Napkin placements have also changed. Some restaurants elaborately fold their napkins and place them on the charger. Others place them in the drinking glass.

break rules color style fcafotodigital / Getty Images


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