Table set

How to Set a Table: Basic, Casual, and Formal Settings

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Are you hosting gatherings, dining with family, or simply interested in enhancing your table presentation abilities? We're here to guide you in setting up a table, from a fundamental table arrangement to an elegant one.

Setting the table can be a challenging task that can leave you wondering how to place your cutlery and flatware. However, it would help if you weren't stressing about your table place setting and focusing on the food.

If you're a beginner, you can begin with the basic table setting, especially if you're looking to set a casual mood for your guests. For a formal setting, you can simply add more pieces, for example, adding more plates, cutlery, glasses, etc.

To make the table setting process simpler for you, we have a step-to-step guide on how to set a table, no matter the occasion.

Basic Table Setting

Basic table setting involves setting up the table for everyday dinner or any other meal. It is very simple to get done. You just need some basic items like glasses, dinner plates, a placemat, cutlery, and napkins. Here are some steps you can follow;

  1. Put the placemat on the dining table.
  2. In the middle of the mat, place the dinner plate.
  3. On top of the dinner plate, put the salad plate on top of the dinner plate.
  4. To the left, place the napkin.
  5. Put the dinner fork on the napkin.
  6. To the right side, place the knife.
  7. Then, put the spoon, to the right of the knife.
  8. Ensure the bottoms of all utensils are on the same level.
  9. Place the water glass directly above the plate.
  10. If you have a wine glass, place it on the right side of the water glass.

Now that you understand some basic table setting steps let's look at the casual table setting.

How to Set a Table for Casual Events

The casual table setting, also known as the informal table setting, is mostly used for casual occasions, for example, friends or a family dinner party. It has no big difference from the basic setting; however, there is an addition of the soup bowls. You may need a placemat, salad and dinner plates, napkins, dinner forks and knives, soup bowls and spoons, salad plates, water, and wine glasses.

Here is how you can casually set a table;

  1. Lay the placemat on the dinner table.
  2. In the middle, place the dinner plate in the middle.
  3. On top of the plate, put the salad plate
  4. Then the soup bowl should be on top of both the dinner plate and salad plate.
  5. Put a napkin on the left side of the plate.
  6. Put the dinner fork on top of the napkin.
  7. Place the dinner knife on the right of the plate.
  8. On the right of the knife, place the soup spoon.
  9. The water glass needs to be directly above the knife.

Lastly, place the wine glass on the right of the water glass, place the wine glass.

Formal Table Setting

Now that you have known how to set a table for casual occasions, this one may sound a little overwhelming because of the additional items required and different table settings. However, once you understand how to do it, you'll find a formal dinner very easy to host.

For this place setting, you need salad plates, soup spoons, bread plates, dinner plates, tablecloth, knives, butter knives, chargers, soup bowls, napkins, dinner forks, salad forks, knives, dessert spoons, red wine glasses, water glasses, and white wine glasses.

Follow these simple steps for a formal table setting;

  1. Lay the tablecloth nicely on the table.
  2. Place a charger plate at each seat.
  3. At the center of the charger plates, add a soup bowl and a salad plate.
  4. Put the bread plate to the top left of the charger.
  5. To the left side of the charger, place a napkin.
  6. On the napkin, place the dinner fork and the salad forks, from left to right.
  7. Place the knife to the right side of the charger, and then the soup spoon.
  8. Ensure all the salad fork, dinner fork, knife, and soup spoon are spaced out evenly, and the bottoms of each cutlery are aligning with the bottom of the charger.
  9. On top of the bread plate, place a butter knife horizontally, with the handle pointing to the right of your setting.
  10. If you have any dessert utensils, place the dessert spoon or a teaspoon directly above the charger, with the handle pointing to the right.
  11. Directly above the knife, place the water glass.
  12. Next, place the white wine glass to the right of the water glass( three-quarter of an inch downwards).
  13. Slightly above the white wine glass, place the red wine glass goes to the right.
  14. If you have individual pepper and salt shakers for every guest, place them above the dessert spoon. However, if they are shared, place them at them, but if the tables are long, put them in the middle of every end of the table.
  15. If you have a place card, place it also above the dessert spoon.

Mistakes to Avoid When Setting the Table

1. Overcrowding too many place settings on the dinner table.

It can be tempting to overcrowd the place settings to accommodate all of your guests, but this only makes them uncomfortable, especially for a formal place. In case you have a big number of guests, consider getting a bigger table or several tables.

2. Overpowering the table with fragrances

Scents are great, but avoid using scented candles or overly scented flowers on your dining table. Instead, you can add spiced wine, savory casseroles, and freshly-baked sweets to improve the fragrance.

3. Mixing up the placement of utensils

During a dinner party, you need to ensure your guests do not have a challenge finding the utensils. Ensure you place them in the right order as explained avoid.

Tips of How to Set a Table Properly and Make it Special

Ensure the dinner table is neither too tall nor too short(10 to 12 inches tall is recommended)

Before your guests arrive at the table, ensure the water goblets are filled, bread and butter, among other shared items, are strategically placed.

For etiquette purposes, clear the plates and utensils used after the guests are done with a course meal.

Ensure your dinner plates have the right temperature. For oven-safe plates, you can place them in the oven and set the lowest temperature possible. For those that aren't, you can rinse them with hot water.

You can choose to serve the appetizers and beverages in the living room before the guest comes to the dining table to avoid overcrowding the table.


As a general rule, you should only set out the glassware and flatware that you will be using. If you’re not planning to have a salad course, you don't need to set a salad fork. Also, if you’re not serving coffee, then coffee, then coffee cups are not necessary, and so on. 

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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