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How to Set a Dinner Table


If you're confused about cutlery, which plate goes where and which wine glass is best, you are not alone!  Unless you have had formal training in a restaurant or have a mum schooled in etiquette, you probably are a little bamboozled by setting a formal dinner table.  Keep this guide handy for all your dinner parties, BBQs, birthday celebrations, and even swanky soirees like weddings.  The ultimate guide to setting the dinner table with no embarrassing gaffs!

Start with a white cotton linen table cover which has been ironed (yes, we're being pedantic about this but it really makes a difference).  Add a placemat next - for your guests to be comfortable, each setting will be spaced about 60-80cm from the centre of one placesetting to the next. 

Here are the other elements you will need:

  • Napkins - Napkins are essential and we highly recommend that you invest in some linen napkins for your home that you bring out for special dinners.  They have a sense of occasion about them and really do look lovely for dinner parties.
  • Cutlery - A formal cutlery set is another highly recommended investment for each home.  You don't need to invest in silverware- although it is lovely!  You can purchase some really elegant cutlery sets from online stores such as Peters of Kensington and Victoria's Basement without breaking the bank.
  • Glassware - As a basic set, you should think about investing in a good set of water glasses such as tumblers or goblets, and a good set of wine glasses.  If you can afford it and you entertain often, you could have a set of white wine glasses, red wine glasses and champagne glasses.  
  • Crockery or Dinner Sets - While you don't need a formal dinner set in your home, if you can afford to invest in one it is wonderful to break out your best china when you have guests coming.  Having said that, you could easily get away with a basic white dinner set which includes dinner plates, dessert bowls, bread plates and a tea or coffee set for 8 or 12 in your home.  If you are inclined to go a little further, you could also invest in a fine china setting for 8 or 12 which also includes charger or serving plates which add a real sense of formality to the dinner table plus salad plates which allow you to serve two courses without having to wash up between servings for your guests.
  • Serving Plates & Platters - Basic white serving plates and platters in various sizes and shapes are truly handy when you are hosting a dinner party.  They might stay in the cupboards during the working week, but they become invaluable for holidays and whenever you are hosting guests in your home.
  • Decanters and Ice Buckets - For bars at home, a few decanters or pretty bottled for iced water and other beverages are a dream for parties and allow guests to serve themselves water throughout the night.  You might also like to invest in an ice bucket and ice tongs which make serving drinks to guests so much easier than visiting the freezer dozens of times a night.
  • Bread Baskets - For most meals, you will be serving some type of bread so investing in a pretty bread basket that can be lined with a linen napkin is a lovely decoration for your dinner table. 
  • Salt and Pepper - As a general rule, you will want to have a set of salt and pepper shakers for every two to four guests, so having a few sets in your cupboard makes sense.  They don't have to be expensive or decorative - simple glass and metal shakers are a non-intrusive but practical element for your dinner table.

Now, to the tricky part...

Follow our illustration above for the right place to put each element of your placesetting. 

  1. Start with your charger plate at the bottom and a little to the right of the centre of the placemat. 
  2. If you are serving dinner at the table or having a buffet meal, rather than bringing plates to the table filled with food, then you may want a second plate on top of the charger. 
  3. Then add the cutlery.  The general rule with cutlery is that you start with the pieces furthest away from the plate and work your way in during the meal.  So, start with your entree or salad fork on the farthest left, then place your dinner fork next.  If you are serving dessert, you may also want to place a dessert fork closest to the plate.  On the right hand side, you have your knife closest to the plate (with the cutting edge facing the plate) and your dessert spoon furthest away.  At the top of the setting, place a teaspoon.
  4. To the top left of the plate, you place your bread plate and butter knife.  
  5. To the top right of the plate place your water glass closest to the centre, then your wine glasses with the largest wine glass closest to the plate. 
  6. Lastly, please the folded napkin to the left of the forks.  If you want to use decorative napkin folds, you could also place the napkin on the plate with a napkin ring.  It's up to you!

During the night, you will want to clear plates between courses.  Remember to clear only when all your guests have finished eating.  It's easiest to clear and replace the dishes immediately, resetting the table for the next course as unobtrusively as you can manage!

For a dessert setting, you will want to place the dessert plate in the centre of the placemat, with the dessert fork and spoon to the right of the plate with the fork closest to the plate.  The tea or coffee cup and saucer sits to the top right of the dessert plate, around the same place as the wine glasses would for a dinner setting.

You can certainly be creative with your dinner settings but we also recommend using the tips above to make your guests comfortable when they sit down to your celebration.  Add some more style and your own creative flair through your table centrepieces and party decorations.

Here are some creative ways to set the table for your next event:

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