A Complete Guide to Setting a Table Perfectly

Set a table


Whether you’re throwing a fancy dinner party or just having a few friends over for a casual dinner, you should always make sure your guests have a beautifully set table. A clever division makes organizing the meal child’s play and allows you to collect used dishes quickly and without much effort. Also, follow a few rules of etiquette to make your loved ones feel comfortable and welcome.

Set the table for a casual meal

Lay out placemats.

Placemats protect the surface of your table and look attractive at the same time. The bottom of each set should be about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the edge of the table. Choose placemats that match your plates and table. If in doubt, you can always simply use white placemats.

Arrange plates and napkins.

For a casual dinner, you’ll probably serve a soup or salad as a starter, a main course, and dessert. The large plate for the main course is placed at the bottom of the placemat. You put the plate or bowl for soup or salad on it. You can put the napkin between the two plates or roll it up and decorate it on the top plate. If you are serving bread with the starter, place a small starter plate to the left of the placemat. The dessert will later be served on its own plate.

Put the cutlery on the place mats.

Forks are to the left of the plate and knives and spoons are to the right. A separate salad fork, if needed, should be placed to the left of the main course fork, and a soup spoon to the right of the knife. If you want to have the cutlery ready for dessert, it goes over the plate. The edge of the knife should point towards the plate. Only put out cutlery that is really needed for your meal.

Get glasses ready.

The water glass should be above the knife on the placemat. If you are also serving wine, place the wine glass on the table to the left of the water glass, not on the placemat. If you want to offer more than one wine, arrange the glasses in a triangle behind the first wine glass. At an informal dinner, there is usually only one wine on the table. If you want to offer more, you should consider making the dinner more formal overall and uncovering it for a formal occasion as well.

Plan on desserts and coffee.

Prepare plates for dessert in advance. When it’s time to serve dessert, collect the used dishes and distribute the dessert plates. If you are serving coffee, you can either bring the cups and saucers to the table with the dessert or place them to the right of the water glasses right from the start. Cutlery for dessert is either handed out when serving or lies on the place mat across the plate for the main course.

Set the table for a formal dinner

Put the tablecloth and placemats on the table.

If you’ve hosted an elegant dinner, spread a floor-length tablecloth over the entire table. Place a placemat in each seat so that the bottom edge is about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the edge of the table. Choose a tablecloth and placemats that match your plates and table. If in doubt, you can always just grab a white tablecloth and white placemats.

Set out the charger plates and arrange the napkins on them.

An underplate is a decorative plate on which all other plates are placed. It goes in the middle and at the bottom of the placemat. You can fold the serviette nicely and decorate it on the underplate or add a serviette ring and place it to the left of the placemat. Charger plates are for purely decorative purposes and are therefore optional. However, many people find that without an underplate, the table looks extremely empty between courses. Food is never served on the underplate itself!

Arrange the plates for each course on the charger plate.

This always happens in the order in which they are used. For example, if you are serving soup, salad and a main course, you would place the plate for the main course on the bottom of the charger plate. Then comes the salad plate, followed by a soup plate. Each plate is cleared after each course. If there are more than three courses, have the plates brought to the table with the respective course and then cleared away to save space. The underplate is only cleared with the plate of the main course.

Place all other plates on the table.

If there is bread, place another small plate to the left over the forks and add a butter knife. If there is coffee after the meal, you can serve it with a cup and saucer or place the cup and saucer to the right of the spoon. The dessert plate can also be served or placed over the placemat on the tablecloth.

Lay out the cutlery.

Forks are always on the left of the plate, knives on the right. Sort the cutlery from the outside to the inside. What is used first is on the outside, what is used last is right next to the plate. Dessert forks are above the plate, tines to the right. The spoon, in turn, is above the fork and points to the left. Each course should have at least one piece of cutlery. A salad should have its own fork and a soup its own spoon. The respective pieces of cutlery are cleared away with each course.

Put the glasses on the table.

The water glass is closest to the plate, followed by the wine glasses, arranged left to right in the order in which they are used. White wine is usually served with soups and salads, and red wine with the main course. In this case, you would first place the water glass on the plate, followed by the white wine glass, and finally the red wine glass. If a glass is only intended for a specific course, it should be cleared away with the plate and cutlery at the end of the course. If you don’t have enough space on the table to line up the glasses, you can arrange them in a triangle.

Decorate the napkin attractively

Roll up your napkins and put a ring over them.

You can get napkin rings in furniture stores and decoration shops. You can even design your own napkin rings online – or make them yourself! Then fold the napkin lengthwise, roll it up, and slide it into the ring. The ring holds them together and makes for an attractive look. During the meal, the napkin ring is placed on the top left above the placemat. Rolled napkins can either be on the top plate or to the left of the placemat.

Fold the napkin flat.

This technique looks especially nice when your napkins go well with your plates. Fold the napkin in thirds lengthwise into a long, narrow napkin shape. Then place the folded napkin on top of the charger but under the plates for each course. The color of the napkin then contrasts nicely against the colors of the plate. If the napkin is too long, fold it in half again to shorten it.

Fold a fan.

A napkin fan always looks elegant and interesting. First, fold the napkin in half lengthwise. Then you fold them in a zigzag back and forth like an accordion. Leave about 7.5 cm open at the end. Fold the work in half so that the unfolded part is in the middle. Tuck the unfolded piece into the back and pluck the fan apart. If you can’t get the napkin fan right, watch videos. It’s easier to understand once you’ve seen it. Place the folded napkin at the head of the place setting.


Fill the water glasses right at the start of the meal and put a carafe of water on the table for guests to refill. If you can afford it, hire a waiter for a formal dinner party. So you can relax and enjoy the meal with your guests. Make sure that table decorations are never so high that they shield guests from each other. If you want to get more tableware deals and discounts, click here.




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