How to Set a Beautiful Table

Set the Scene for a Great Meal

Whether it’s a weekday family meal or a festive holiday feast, you will need to set your table. The way you set your table is important for three reasons. It sets the tone or feeling about the gathering. It lets the people coming to your table feel important enough for you to put in the extra effort. It enhances the look of the food being served and influences the overall appearance and ambiance of the meal. A beautiful presentation in which all the elements on the table come together in harmony really sets the stage for an enjoyable repast.

Before discussing tips for setting a beautiful table, especially for holiday gatherings, let’s cover some of the basic elements and rules of thumb.

A great table consists of serveware, plates, glassware, drinkware, flatware, and table linens.

A great table consists of serveware, plates, glassware, drinkware, flatware, and table linens.

The Elements of a Table Setting

Even the most basic table setting consists of serveware and plates, glassware or drinkware, flatware, and table linens. Serveware includes dinner plates, bread and butter plates, salad plates or bowls, serving platters and dishes. Glassware consists of goblets, wine glasses, beverage glasses, coffee mugs, and tea cups. Flatware covers all of your eating and serving utensils such as knives, forks, and spoons. Linens includes table clothes, napkins, and table runners. Additional elements would include extras such as place card holders, table centerpiece, and decorative items for themed or holiday settings.

Basic Rules for All Place Settings

The more courses a meal has, the more plates, dishes, and utensils will be part of each individual place settings. It is not as confusing as it may seem. The basic rule for all place settings is to work from the outside in so that utensils are placed in the order they’re served. The eating utensils needed for the first course are placed furthest away from the plate. Thus an appetizer fork would be the farthest from the plate on the left, followed by a salad fork, while the dinner fork would be next to the plate. If serving only a single course or setting a place for an everyday or informal meal, you would only need one fork. The dinner knife would go to the right of the plate and a spoon would be to the right of the knife.

The Three Main Table Setting Categories

How a table is set will tell diners whether the meal they are about to sit down to will be a casual or formal dining experience. In general, when it comes to entertaining, there are three main table setting categories: casual, formal, and buffet. A table setting for everyday meals is the same as a casual one but without the addition of a wine glass.

Click for a PDF download of our Visual Guide to Place Setting.

Click for a PDF download of our Visual Guide to Place Setting

Casual or informal table settings

Casual table settings cover a wide range of informal meals from a quick breakfast with the family to a simple dinner with a few friends. This style of table setting is more relaxed overall. Place mats and table cloths may or may not be used, and centerpieces if any are more impromptu. Since food is not served in courses, the same fork is used for multiple items so less utensils are needed. All needed glassware and dishware are placed on the table at once, and food is served family-style on platters that are passed among the diners or served by the host.

To set a casual table:

  1. Lay out the table cloth or place mats if you’re using them.
  2. Place the dinner plate in the center of the place setting. A salad plate, if needed, is set atop the dinner plate.
  3. The fork goes to the left of the plate. If used, a salad fork is placed to the left of the dinner fork.
  4. The knife to the right of the plate.
  5. The spoon is set to the right of the knife.
  6. A water glass is added to the top right corner above the knife.
  7. If wine is being served, a wine glass (either red or white) is placed to the right of the water glass.
  8. A napkin is placed on top of the dinner plate (folded or with a napkin ring in a roll or fan formation) or folded and placed beneath the fork.
Perfect for casual entertaining or a weekend family dinner.

Perfect for casual entertaining or a weekend family dinner.

Formal table settings

A formal table setting incorporates a table cloth, cloth napkins, and a centerpiece. The necessary silverware and glassware are preset on the table. Dishes can be either preset on the table or may be brought in as each course is served. For most formal dinners, dishes are preset on the table, and each course is passed. In traditional, high-society formal dinners in which wait staff is used, especially in such occasions as a state banquet, filled plates are brought in for each course and offered to the guests.

To set a formal table:

  1. Lay out the table cloth or place mats if you’re using them.
  2. Place the dinner plate in the center of the place setting. You can opt to also place a charger plate under the dinner plate for added style and an additional protective layer.
  3. A salad plate if needed is set atop the dinner plate.
  4. A bread plate is placed above and to the left of the dinner and salad plate. The butter knife can be placed horizontally on the bread plate.
  5. The dinner fork goes to the left of the plate, and the salad fork is placed to the left of the dinner fork.
  6. The knife to the right of the plate.
  7. The spoon is set to the right of the knife.
  8. A dessert spoon or fork should be placed horizontally above the dinner plate.
  9. A water glass goes in the upper right corner or the place setting.
  10. White and red wineglasses are placed to the right of the water glass. The red wine glass goes just behind the white wine glass. The water glass is placed closest to the guest.
  11. A napkin is placed on top of the salad plate (folded or with a napkin ring in a roll or fan formation.
  12. If used, a place card is placed above the dessert spoon/fork. To make it easier for a guest to find their place, write their name on both sides of the card. It also lets the person sitting across from them know who they are talking to if they weren’t previously acquainted with each other.
  13. A coffee cup and saucer are set below the glasses with the dessert course.
Perfect for a holiday dinner or formal get-together

Perfect for a holiday dinner or formal get-together.

Buffet table settings

Table settings for a buffet meal can either be informal or formal. For formal buffets, glassware and silverware, and napkins are still placed on the table for each guest. The table will have a tablecloth and a centerpiece, along with a charger plate at each place setting. Guests will get and fill their dinner plates at the buffet table and bring them back to their designated table.

For informal buffet meals, there is still a tablecloth on the dining table and perhaps a small centerpiece. Each place setting includes a drinking glass and a napkin. It may include basic flatware and a plate or the guests may pick up their plates and flatware as they serve themselves from the food-laden buffet table.

A buffet style dinner allows for easy and relaxed entertaining.

A buffet style dinner allows for easy and relaxed entertaining.

Creating a Beautiful Table for the Holidays

Now that we have covered the basics, here’s some tips for making your table more festive when you entertain during the holiday season.

Make your table more festive during the holiday season.

Make your table more festive during the holiday season.

Start with colors themed for the season

Picking shades of colors suitable for the season or theme of the event will set the stage for your holiday gatherings. The colors used in the linens, centerpieces, and even the dinnerware and flatware help to create the proper environment and set the tone of your luncheon or dinner.

For Thanksgiving, think warm shades inspired by autumn such as russet, gold, cinnamon, sage green, orange, and yellow. Some people use patterned tablecloths, napkins, and plates designed just for the Thanksgiving holiday with harvest-themed motifs and colors.

For Christmas, you can use the traditional color scheme of red and green, an elegant mix of silver and gold, or you can go with cooler blue and white colors to invoke a winter wonderland.

Bring in greenery or flowers from your garden for a centerpiece

Make or supplement a decorative centerpiece for your table by harvesting flowers or greenery from your garden or yard. You can make a beautiful floral arrangement in a vase or small planter, or you can add foliage to a tray of decorative gourds in the fall or festive holiday ornaments in the winter. Pine cones, acorns, and small pumpkins are perfect for the fall season. Sprigs of holly, evergreen, and mistletoe make lovely additions for Christmas centerpiece displays.

Make a statement with napkins

Finish off your place setting with a cloth napkin. You can experiment with different ways to fold, fan, and roll the napkins to make each place setting extra special. Don’t forget some napkin rings to hold your beautiful napkin presentation in place.

Create a cozy ambience

No one wants to dine under harsh or too bright lights. Set the mood for a relaxing meal by dimming the overhead lights or adding the soft glow of candle light to your table. Votive candle holders, a pair of candlesticks, or even a vintage candelabra will not only look beautiful, but also help establish a warm and intimate atmosphere.

It’s all in the details

Incorporating small details into your table setting will enchant your guests throughout the meal. Beautiful place card holders with guest names printed in a striking font or even handwritten in calligraphy makes your table more memorable. Elegant china or simple dinnerware in classic white with lovely crystal stemware or glasses gives your meal a sophisticated look. Make it less formal and homey with stoneware or pottery pieces, or more whimsical with colorful plates and dishes and bright prints. Add texture with your linens and accents used in your centerpiece. For some special occasions, small party favors for your guests adds a personal and welcoming touch.

Incorporating small details into your table setting will enchant your guests.

Incorporating small details into your table setting will enchant your guests.

The holidays will be here before you know it. Start getting ready now for the season by getting everything you need to set a beautiful table. Check out the selection of products from Riverbend Home including dinnerware, serveware, glassware, utensils, linens, seasonal décor, and more.

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Advice & Ideas Riverbend Home 2018 2018-07-03
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