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Table Setting

General Table Setting Guidelines

  • The lower edges of the utensils should be aligned with the bottom rim of the plate, about one (1) inch up from the edge of the table.
  • To avoid hiding a utensil under the rim of a plate or bowl, lay it approximately one (1) inch away from the plate's side.
  • To eliminate fingerprints on the handle, hold flatware by the "waist," the area between the handle and the eating end of the utensil.
  • Elbow room requires a minimum of 15 inches between place settings, or approximately 24 inches from the center of one place setting to the middle of the next.
  • Butter should be waiting on butter plates, the glasses filled with water, and the wine ready to be served before the guests are seated.
  • The water glass should be placed approximately one (1) inch from the tip of the dinner knife.
  • Place knives with blades facing the plate.
  • Do not place over three pieces of flatware on either side of the plate at one time (except forks if an oyster fork is used).
  • When an uneven number of people are seated, the odd-numbered place settings are laid opposite the middle of the even-numbered place settings.

The Formal Table Setting

To avoid clutter, the general rule for a any table setting is to include no more than three utensils on either side of the dinner plate at a time. The exception is the oyster (or seafood) fork, which may be placed to the right of the last spoon even when it is the fourth utensil to the right of the plate. The initial table setting for a typical formal dinner should look something like this:

dining etiquette

  1. Service Plate. Place the service plate in the center of the place setting.
  2. Butter Plate. A small bread plate is placed above the forks, above and to the left of the service plate.
  3. Glasses.
    1. Water Glass. The water goblet is placed above each guest's dinner knife. The other glasses are then arranged around the water glass as follows:
    2. Champagne Glass. A champagne flute may be located between the water glass and the wine glasses.
    3. Red Wine Glass. Red wine glasses have a wider globe and may be cupped in the palm of your hand if you choose.
    4. White Wine Glass. The glass with the longer stem and cylindrical globe is the white wine glass.  White wine glasses should only be held by the stem.
    5. Sherry Glass. A small sherry glass may also be present to the right of the wine glasses.  This may signal that sherry will be served with the soup course.
  4. Forks.
    1. Salad Fork. Directly to the plate's left. One (1) inch from the plate.
    2. Dinner Fork. Left of the salad fork.
    3. Fish Fork. On the dinner fork's left.
  5. Knives.
    1. Dinner Knife. (Or meat knife if meat will be served.) Directly to the right of the plate. One (1) inch from the plate.
    2. Fish Knife. On the dinner knife's right.
    3. Butter Knife. On the butter plate, diagonally with the handle toward the guest.
  6. Spoons.
    1. Soup Spoon and/or Fruit Spoon. Right of the knives.
  7. Oyster Fork. If present, on the right of the soup (or fruit) spoon.
    1. Also known as the seafood fork.
    2. The only fork placed on the right side of the place setting.
    3. The fork tines are placed in the bowl of the soup spoon with the handle at a 45-degree angle.
    4. It may also be laid next to the soup spoon in a parallel position.
  8. Dessert Spoons and Forks.
    1. A dessert fork and/or spoon may be placed horizontally above the dinner plate.
    2. These utensils may also be provided when dessert is served.
  9. Salt and Pepper.
    1. Salt Shaker. The salt shaker is placed to the right of the pepper shaker.
    2. Pepper Shaker. The pepper shaker is to the left of the salt shaker, and is angled slightly above the salt shaker.
    3. Salt and Pepper Shakers. They are placed above the cover or between two place settings.
    4. Salt Cellars. At formal affairs, salt is always applied from a salt cellar, a method that provides controlled use of salt. A small spoon is presented in the salt cellar and used to sprinkle salt over food.
  10. Finger Bowls.
    1. Finger bowls may be placed on the table at the end of the meal.

Once the table is set, the next consideration is formal dinner service.

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- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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