Setting the Table

The season is here. Get out your best manners…Remember that table etiquette is meant to equalize the people at the table and so that everyone is comfortable.  People all over the world and especially in international business and diplomacy – count on using the same rules everywhere they go. Its not meant to be snobby but to be polite.

If you plan to change things up an go a bit more modern – you can do whatever makes sense. If your guests understand what to do – it is considered polite.

The last rule of thumb to remember is that every course begins with the hostess choosing the correct piece of flatware and beginning. It is impolite to start before him or her. Do what he or she does and you are home free.



A. Napkin                                                              F. Wine

B. Luncheon Plate                                                 G. Luncheon Fork

C. Soup Bowl or Cup                                            H. Luncheon Knife

D. Butter Plate                                                        I.  Coffee Spoon

E. Water Goblet/Ice Tea or Water tumbler            J.  Soup Spoon

Note: If you are serving iced tea, the long ice tea spoon should go across the top of the plate.  It is also a good idea to be less formal with the napkin folds.

Image result for formal luncheon table setting



The one unbreakable rule is that everything must be geometrically spaced – all places must be at equal distances, and all sterling silver flatware balanced.

The silverware used at a formal table setting should be sterling silver flatware if possible.  It is not necessary that all the sterling silver match, although all forks or all spoons should be of the same pattern.  Dessert sterling silver flatware, which is not brought to the table but is brought in with the desert plates, need not match the dinner flatware.  Knives and forks should match.

If bread or rolls are to be served, a butter plate should be used.  The butter plate is located above the forks at the left of the place setting.   The butter knife is laid across it, slightly diagonally from upper left to lower right, with the sharper edge of the blade toward the edge of the table.

If you plan to serve coffee with the meal, the cup and saucer go to the right of the setting, with the coffee spoon on the right side of the saucer.  Although it is far nicer to serve coffee separately with dessert at end of the meal.

The one rule for a formal table is for everything to be geometrically spaced: the centerpiece at the exact center; the place settings at equal distances; and the utensils balanced. Beyond these placements, you can vary flower arrangements and decorations as you like.

The placement of utensils is guided by the menu, the idea being that you use utensils in an “outside in” order. For the illustrated place setting here, the order of the menu is: Appetizer: Shellfish, First Course: Soup or fruit,  Fish Course, Entrée, &  Salad

  1. Service Plate: This large plate, also called a charger, serves as an underplate for the plate holding the first course, which will be brought to the table. When the first course is cleared, the service plate remains until the plate holding the entrée is served, at which point the two plates are exchanged. The charger may serve as the underplate for several courses which precede the entrée.
  2. Butter plate: The small butter plate is placed above the forks at the left of the place setting.
  3. Dinner fork: The largest of the forks, also called the place fork, it is placed on the left of the plate. Other smaller forks for other courses are arranged to the left or right of the dinner fork, according to when they will be used.
  4. Fish fork: If there is a fish course, this small fork is placed farthest to the left of the dinner fork because it is the first fork used.
  5. Salad fork: If salad is served after the entrée, the small salad fork is placed to the right of the dinner fork, next to the plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the forks would be arranged (left to right): salad fork, fish fork, dinner fork.
  6. Dinner knife: The large dinner knife is placed to the right of the dinner plate.
  7. Fish knife: The specially shaped fish knife goes to the right of the dinner knife.
  8. Salad knife: (Note: there is no salad knife in the illustration.) If used, according to the above menu, it would be placed to the left of the dinner knife, next to the dinner plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the knives would be arranged (left to right):dinner knife, fish knife, salad knife.
  9. Soup spoon or fruit spoon: If soup or fruit is served as a first course, then the accompanying spoon goes to the right of the knives.
  10. Oyster fork: If shellfish are to be served, the oyster fork is set to the right of the spoons. Note: It is the only fork ever placed on the right of the plate.
  11. Butter knife: This small spreader is paced diagonally on top of the butter plate, handle on the right and blade down.
  12. Glasses: These can number up to five and are placed so that the smaller ones are in front. The water goblet (la) is placed directly above the knives. Just to the right goes a champagne flute (lb); In front of these are placed a red (lc) and/or white (ld) wine glass and a sherry glass (le)
  13. Napkin: The napkin is placed on top of the charger (if one is used) or in the space for the plate.

*Knife blades are always placed with the cutting edge toward the plate. No more than three of any implement is ever placed on the table, except when an oyster fork is used in addition to three other forks. If more than three courses are served before dessert, then the utensil for the fourth course is brought in with the food; likewise the salad fork and knife may be brought in when the salad course is served. Dessert spoons and forks are brought in on the dessert plate just before dessert is served.

A formal service is usually an 8 course dinner
1.Appetizer Course 
2.Soup Course 
3.Fish Course
4. Entrée Course (Pasta,salmon,shrimp,chicken,turkey,squab)
5.Palate Cleanser 
6.Main (Releve) Course (usually a roast)
7.Salad Course 
Fingerbowl Before Dessert 
8.Dessert Course 
9.Coffee/Tea Course 

You really cannot do it wrong as long as you are neat and spare the tablecloth: There are three ways to hold those knives and forks

American: All action in the right hand, switching knife and fork between.
British: Action in both hands, knife in left, fork in right.
European: Action in both hands, knife in right, fork in left.

Remember that whether you are using fine china or paper plates; sterling or chopsticks; these are rules are for your guests’ comfort and enjoyment.

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