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The Etiquette Scholar blog answering you dining etiquette questions.

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Placing Glassware

Stemware is placed on the table in a way that is comfortable, convenient, and symmetrical, an arrangement determined by the dining occasion. At a formal affair, because the majority of people are right-handed, stemware is aligned symmetrically at the top right of the cover. In informal dining, particularly a family meal, comfort is more important than the aesthetics of symmetry, and stemware is placed to accommodate the handedness of the diner.

Stemware Configuration

The arrangement of stemware is based on space. At a formal multi-course meal, there is a lot of tableware, including a water goblet and two or three wine glasses. To save space, stemware is arranged in the shape of a triangle or a diamond.

  • In the triangle arrangement, the dessert glass forms the highest point. The water goblet is angled to the lower left of the dessert glass, and the glasses for red and white wine are placed on the lower right side. When sherry is served, the sherry glass is placed on the lower right of the white wine glass.
  • The diamond shape is the same as the triangle arrangement, except the white wine glass is angled to the lower left of the red wine glass, and the sherry glass to the lower left of the white wine glass.

At a simple meal, two or three courses are served and less stemware is required. Usually one wine glass is used along with a water goblet. The table setting is uncrowded and there is room to arrange stemware in any way one chooses, such as in a straight line parallel with the edge of the table or a diagonal line angled toward the table's edge.

Order of Use

Stemware is placed on the table in the order of use.

  • Water Goblet. Because water is taken throughout a meal, particularly a four-to five-course meal that incorporates a variety of seasonings, the goblet is placed in a position closest to the hand, approximately 1 inch above the tip of the dinner knife to eliminate hitting the goblet when the dinner knife is lifted for use. However, at a simple two-to three-course meal, fewer seasonings are incorporated in the menu, and generally water is not served unless the menu is spicy. But when water is served, the goblet is placed above the tip of the dinner knife.
  • Wine Glasses. Wine glasses are placed on the table in the order that accommodates the service of wine. Normally at a simple meal, one wine is served, and the way the wine glass is placed on the table is not important. But a typical multi-course menu begins with light courses, proceeds to the main course, and is followed by a light course or two. To accommodate the course in service, the appropriate wine glass is placed nearest the hand, a position that works from the left toward the water goblet.
  • Sherry Glasses. The sherry glass is placed on the table when sherry is served to accompany a course in which sherry is an ingredient, usually an appetizer of soup. On an uncrowded table, the sherry glass is placed on the right side of the white wine glass, in a position closest to the hand. However, when space on the table is crowded, the sherry glass is placed to the left front of the white wine glass.
  • White Wine Glasses. The white wine glass is arranged in the form of a triangle or a diamond. In the triangle arrangement, when a sherry glass is placed on the table, the white wine glass is positioned to the upper left of the sherry glass. If a sherry glass is not placed on the table, the white wine glass is placed to the lower right of the red wine glass. In the diamond arrangement, the white wine glass is placed to the lower left of the red wine glass.
  • Red Wine Glasses. The red wine glass is placed also in a triangle or a diamond. In the triangle arrangement, the red wine glass is placed to the upper left of the white wine glass, generally above the spoon. In the diamond arrangement, the red wine glass is placed to the upper right of the white wine glass.
  • Dessert Wine Glasses. The dessert wine glass is angled to the right rear of the water goblet when space is at a premium. Otherwise, it is placed directly to the right of the water goblet.
  • Champagne Glasses. The champagne glass is placed on the table to the right of the water goblet when champagne is the only wine served with a meal. If champagne is served to accompany a particular course, such as an appetizer or dessert, the champagne glass is placed on the table in the order of use.
  • Juice Glasses. The juice glass is placed in the center of the cover on a small underplate when juice is served as a first course: for example, tomato juice at dinner or orange juice at breakfast. If juice is served to accompany a meal, the glass is placed directly on the table at the top right of the cover.

- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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