What is the Proper Way to Set a Table?

Anna T.

To set a table, it is typically advised to put the dinner knife and soup spoon to the right of the plate and the dinner and salad forks to the left of the plate. The dinner knife should sit closest to the plate, with the blade pointing toward the edge of the plate. Most people place folded napkins on the left side of the plate, next to the forks, although it is also considered acceptable to put the napkin in the center of the dinner plate. Drink glasses are generally placed on the right-hand side of the plate, just above the dinner knife and soup spoon. A person who wants to set a table properly should probably not bring out utensils, plates, or glasses that won't be used because this might make the table setting seem too cluttered.

A dinner knife and fork.
A dinner knife and fork.

When learning to set a table, a person should also familiarize himself with where to place coffee mugs and bread plates in the event they are used for a meal. Most of the time, a coffee mug and saucer may be placed to the right, just above the soup spoon. It is also common to place a coffee spoon for stirring coffee to the right of the coffee saucer. Bread plates usually go on the left, just above the dinner and salad forks. A knife for cutting the bread may be laid across the bread plate, with the knife blade pointed down and to the left.

A wine glass, which goes behind the water glass.
A wine glass, which goes behind the water glass.

Dessert is not always served with every meal, but when it is served, the dessert plate is usually not brought out until the main course is finished. Once the dishes for the main course are cleared away, the dessert may be brought out with a fork or spoon. Sometimes people put dessert forks out before desserts are served, and when this is done, the dessert fork is usually centered just above the dinner plate with the spoon end pointed to the left.

When more than one drink is being served with a meal, such as water and wine, a separate glass should be put out for each drink. In general, the water glass should be placed just in front of the wine glass, and the wine glass should go behind the water glass. The wine glass should typically be aligned so that it is behind the water glass but slightly more to the right so that reaching for it behind the water glass won't be awkward.

There are many different methods used to set a table, and the correct method depends on a variety of things, including the formality of the meal and the type of event the meal is for. Some people argue that there isn't necessarily a correct or incorrect way to set a table because so many people do it differently. Regardless of how a table is set, it is important to keep things arranged so that people have plenty of elbow room and can easily reach across the table for their glasses or various condiments without fear of knocking anything over or bumping into anyone else.

Salads are sometimes placed as a table's centerpiece.
Salads are sometimes placed as a table's centerpiece.

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