The Art of Setting a Formal Table

A beautifully set up table always turns heads. The more you look, the more detail you notice. Now that we’re in holiday season, I figure that most of you are probably thinking about how you’re going to set your table this year. What’s going to be the theme? The color? The final touch that gives it that over the top look? I don’t know who can relate, but I personally would have no idea where to start if I was in charge of setting up a formal dinner table which is why I decided to learn all about it. The reason I bring this up is because had I not taken the initiative to learn myself, no one else would have taught me! Point is, don’t feel bad if you have no idea how to set a formal dinner table, it’s not odd at all and I’m excited to show you the ropes. Before we get into the details, let’s talk about the basics of setting a table.

The tablecloth

Figuring out what kind of tablecloth you want to put on the table is the first step. Once you’ve done that, you can go ahead and place the cloth on the table. (I recommend ironing it prior to putting it on the table in case there are any wrinkles.) 


Moving on to the plates, you’re going to want to grab them and place them onto the table cloth. Make sure your plates align perfectly with your chairs. 

Soup Bowl

Once you’ve aligned your plates with your chairs, you’re going to want to grab your soup bowls and place them perfectly in the center of each plate. 

Bread Plate

Moving on to the bread plates, you’re going to want to grab your them and place them on the top left of your plates/soup bowls. 

Butter Knife set up

Once you’ve set your bread plates, place the butter knife horizontally on the plates with the blade facing inward, so towards you. Make sure the handle of the knife is on the right side. 


There are a couple ways to go about the napkin situation but it depends on the plate situation. If you’ve followed the rules above, then you’re going to want to place the napkin to the left of your plate/soup bowl and under your bread plate. If you do not have soup bowls on your table, you can place the napkin on the plate with a napkin ring. It’s completely dependent on the look you’re going for and of course, whether or not you plan on serving soup haha.

Fork set up

First, you must decide if you want to put the utensils on the napkin or not. If you do, then make sure your napkins are nice and ironed prior to placing them onto the table. Keeping in mind that the napkin goes on the left side, the fork order is the same all around. According to proper etiquette, you must place the salad fork on the outside and the dinner fork on the inside. (The salad fork is smaller than the dinner fork.) Remember to space the forks out evenly, about 1/2 an inch away from each other and to align the bottom of the utensils to the bottom of the plate. You can also put your forks inside the napkin, it’s completely up to you. 

Knife / spoon set up

Now that we’ve talked about the left side, let’s talk about the right side. The knife is the first thing next to the plate on the right side, with the blade facing towards the plate. Next to the knife is the soup spoon (a rather large spoon.) Remember to space the forks out evenly, about 1/2 an inch away from each other and to align the bottom of the utensils to the bottom of the plate.

Dessert spoon 

Place a dessert spoon directly above the plate. Dessert spoons are normally teaspoons. Again, same as the butter knife, make sure the handle of the spoon is on the right. 

Water glass / Wine glass (dependent on color)

The water glass should go above the knife. If you’re setting the table not knowing what kind of wine your guest will prefer, then put the glasses in this order. The white wine glass will go next to the glass of water (3/4th’s of an inch of space between the two and tiny bit lower than where the cup of water is at.) The red wine glass will go next to the white wine glass (3/4th’s of an inch of space between the two and slightly a bit upward than the white wine glass.)



Everyone loves the smell and look of flowers which is why placing them on your table would be quite ideal. Of course, the kind of flowers you put on the table are completely up to you as there are so many great kinds. I guess tips I’d recommend for choosing the flowers are to think about the color and theme of the table. 


Candles are great for creating a vibe. Some dining table candles I would recommend are taper candles which are the long thin ones or votive/tealight candles which are the small ones that can be put in cool colorful glass candle holders. 

Place cards

Place cards are always fun and will definitely have your guests feeling special. If you’d like to use place cards, make sure you place them above the dessert spoon.

Bougie Napkin rings

Napkin rings come in a variety of options. You can stick to the simple ones if that’s the vibe you’re going for but if you’re going for a more fancy vibe, you have plenty of options. I have listed some different kinds below. 

Deer Napkin Rings – Set of 12 – $22.99
Set of 8 Napkin Rings – $10.99
Bowknot Napkin Rings – $16.99

1 thought on “The Art of Setting a Formal Table”

  1. Pingback: Setting Up For Your Next Dinner Party - Impress the Guest

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