Introduction: How to Formally Set a Table

Formally setting up a table may seem like a difficult feat, but this tutorial will help to alleviate the difficulties of the process. By methodically teaching the basic placement and setup of the table, you will be able to host dinners and gatherings without worry over table setup. Properly setting up a table is a very important trade to know and is a critical component of basic etiquette. It is important to pick silverware, plates, napkins, and glasses that are relevant and appropriate for the specific dinner setting. For example, having bright orange and black utensils and napkins might not be a good choice for a Christmas dinner. All of the material used for formally setting a table should be reflective of the environment.

Step 1: Materials

In order to set up a formal dinner table, there are certain essentials. The basic materials required to formally set a table include:

- Dinner Plate

- Salad Plate

- Table Napkin

- Bread/Butter Plate

- Tea Cup with Saucer

- Table Knife

- Butter Knife (if possible)

- Table Spoon

- Dinner Fork

- Salad Fork (if possible)

- Soup Spoon (if possible)

- Water Glass/Wine Glass

These are the very basic materials that are required to formally set a table. Other components of setting up a table that might be necessary could include a centerpiece and potentially decor such as candles. Most of the items that are required are completely interchangeable and not all are required in order to make a table formal. Most people do not use tea cups and bread plates, but this tutorial will provide both in case you require them. Regardless of the level of formality, this tutorial will provide an overarching explanation of the very basic mechanics of setting up a formal table.

Step 2: Setting Up the Plate

Setting up the dinner plate is very basic and easy to do. When placing the plate, make sure that it is centered with the chair. It must be straight and in line or the entire table set up will be off center. Once the dinner plate is set up, place the salad plate right on top of the dinner plate, making sure it is centered. The alignment is concerned with more than just the centering of the plate. The plate should also be roughly an inch away from the edge of the table. Having the dish too far or too close to the guest can cause unwanted stress and disorganization. This is the very first step and the most important step because it will set the tone for the rest of the set up. If the plate is not set up correctly at the beginning, the addition of other items on the table with be placed according to the plate and potentially make the table as a whole disorganized.

Step 3: Setting Up the Silverware

After the dinner plate is adequately positioned, the positioning of the silverware is next. It is a good rule of thumb to know that the forks go on the left and the spoons and knives go on the right. Most table settings include a dinner fork, table knife, and a table spoon. Additional utensils can be added if necessary, such as a soup spoon, butter knife, and even a salad fork. If there is no salad plate as shown in the picture above, obviously a salad fork will not be present. Make sure that the utensils are straight and in line with the plate. While placing down the silverware, double check the alignment of the plate just to make sure it is indeed lined up. Having a neat and orderly table is ideal to ensure formality. In the next step, the cup and bread plate (if necessary) will be added in order to complement the silverware and plates.

Step 4: Bread Plate and Glass

The use of a bread plate can be uncommon, but this tutorial will provide information on the setup of one in case you have one in your possession. The cup or wine glass can is one of the easiest aspects of setting up a dinner table. A good rule of thumb is to think of 10⁰. The 1 in this case represents the forks that are on the right side of the plate and the 0 represents the plate itself. The glass is the degree symbol, which shows it in the upper right section of the plate. Keeping this rule in mind can make the setup of the glassware a very quick and easy process. The bread plate will be placed in the opposite direction of the cup, making the setup as a whole appear to have "Mickey Mouse" ears, as shown in the picture above. While setting up the bread plate and glass (or glasses) make sure that the silverware and plates are indeed straight and lined up to ensure adequate organization.

Step 5: Napkin Placement and Tea Cup

The final step is the setting up of the dinner table is the placement of the napkin and tea cup (if possible). The napkin is simply placed adjacent to the forks as shown in the pictures above. Making sure that the napkin is folded adequately is necessary in order to keep everything organized. A simple rectangular fold will produce the image above. Once the napkin is lined up and placed correctly, the saucer for the tea cup can be placed directly to the right of the glass. Once it is lined up, place the tea cup itself on the saucer. You have now successfully set up a formal table. If you have any additional silverware for additional dishes, they can be added at your disposal. Some reasons for additional silverware could include desserts and soup. Again, this setup can have different variations depending on the type of meal that is being had. Making sure that the setup is appropriate based on the environment is an aspect that should not be overlooked. Following all of the steps and precautions can help to make your setup very organized and can help to impress your friends and family.