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How to Set a Table for Basic, Casual, and Formal Events

How to Set a Table for Basic, Casual, and Formal Events

The delicious foods, drinks, and desserts served at special events play a big role in the overall memories’ guests will have of the events they attend. As with most aspects of a dinner party, presentation is key and the layout of the dinnerware and drinkware is crucial and often overlooked! Table settings are vital to the overall presentation of the day as they make up most of the table decorations!

Your reception or simple family gathering will automatically be escalated by using the proper table setting, which will coordinate with the mood and dinner style of the event. When not planned accordingly to the theme and foods of the event  served, you’ll end up with extra unused utensils or dishware and a cluttered tabletop.

Whether you’re in need of mastering a formal table setting for an elegant wedding reception or just love hosting dinner parties at home this article will help you learn and master different table setting styles! From basic table settings to formal table settings, we'll explain how to set up and decorate each setting in an easy to follow the guide, which will make you an expert in all thing’s dinnerware!

Table Setting Tips

Before we dine-in to the proper table setting etiquette, we want to share a secret with you. Place settings are easier than you think! Here are some simple tips to keep in mind while setting your dinner table:

1. Every setting consists of FORKS… but a good visual trick is to droop the R and visualize the O as your plate. Forks go on the left, O is your plate, Knives to the right of the plate (with the sharp edge facing the plate) and the Spoon goes to the right of the knife.

2. B.M.W place setting trick. This acronym lets you know bread will be placed on the left, the meal will be in the center and water will be on the right.

3. A similar trick is to touch your index fingers to your thumbs creating a “b” and “d”. This will also let you know that bread will be on the left and drinks will be on the right.

4. Utensils are placed in the order they will be used, from the outside in.

5. Last and most importantly, only add the utensils that will be used!

Now that we have covered some basic table setting guidelines, let's dig in!

Basic Place Setting

A basic table setting is perfect for everyday family dinners, offers a simple beauty for casual entertaining at home! Intimate backyard weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries or small gatherings, where you plan on serving a simple one course meal for family and friends are great occasions to use this type of table setting. The minimal setup required allows you to add a personal touch to each setting to create a unique setting for each of your guests!

  • For basic table settings, start by setting the stage for your dinner plate using a place mat or charger plate for more elegant occasions. This will help create a designated area to build upon when setting your table.
  • Center your dinner plate on top of the place mat and or charger plate.
  • Place a dinner fork to the left, making sure the bottom of the fork lines up with the bottom edge of the plate.
  • Add a knife to the right side of the plate with the blade of the knife facing toward the plate to avoid injuries. Ensure it also lines up with the bottom of the plate.
  • On the right side of the knife align and place a dinner spoon.
  • Next, add a water cup on the upper right-hand side directly above the knife.
  • Lastly, add a dinner napkin to the left of the fork. It may also be placed under the fork or on top of the plate depending on the style you’re going for.

Decor Tips

Everyday family dinners do not require a tablecloth however one is recommended when hosting an event for extended family and friends. For sweet and simple casual gatherings, you can't go wrong with simple linens such as polyester napkins and tablecloths accented with a table runner for a pop of color and texture.


To liven up the tablescape, add fun napkin colors or fun napkin folds. Because it's a casual setting, you can't go wrong with disposable plates, cups and cutlery, especially elegant ones with bold patterns or prints. If hosting a weekend brunch, you can make your place setting more personal by adding a simple napkin ring or a sprig of your favorite herb or flower.

Buffet Place Setting

Buffet or family-style table settings are very similar to the basic layout outlined above, however, because most buffet-style events allow guests to serve themselves, the plates are provided at the buffet line rather than on the table. You may set your table with charger plates, with the napkin taking the place of the dinner plate.

  • For basic table settings, start by setting the stage for your dinner plate using a place mat or charger plate for more elegant occasions. This will help create a designated area to build upon when setting your table.
  • To the left of the napkin include a dinner fork.
  • On the right-hand side of the napkin add a dinner knife with the blade towards the napkin.
  • Add a soup spoon to the right of the dinner knife.
  • As with the basic table setting outlined above, the water glass will be placed to the upper right-hand side above the knife and if serving wine, your wine glass will be positioned to the right of the water glass.

Decor Tips

A very common alternative for buffet settings is placing the utensils at the buffet table, this option will require no silverware on the table. Considering that buffet settings leave your table looking a little bare, using elegant linens is a great way to add glamour and pizzazz to a simple table setting.

With attention drawn to the napkin, creating stylish folds or adding dazzling napkin rings and place cards is a must! Keeping in mind the simplicity of the table, this should also translate to the centerpieces. Small floral arrangements, interesting centerpieces, or table numbers are always a good idea!

Casual Place Setting

Casual or informal table settings are an upgraded version of the basic setting with the addition of a few more formal pieces. Casual settings are often used to set up tables at modern or contemporary restaurants and they are perfect for bridal luncheons, holiday tablescapes and weddings or events that will serve more than one meal course.

  • For casual table settings, place the dinner plate on top of a stylish acrylic or glass charger plate instead of a placemat. Using a charger plate will instantly revamp the look of your table especially if using one in your event's color scheme, or with a fancy trim!
  • Next, add a salad plate or soup bowl in the center of the dinner plate. If both a soup and salad course will be part of the meal, top the entree plate with a salad plate followed by a soup bowl. If only salad will be served, a soup plate will not be needed and vice versa. They should be in order from smallest on top to biggest on the bottom.
  • Add the utensils needed for each course that will be served. If soup and salad will be served, you’ll need a salad fork on the outer left side followed by a dinner fork closest to the plate. On the right side of your plate you’ll need a dinner knife by the plate, followed by a salad knife, and then a soup spoon. When arranging the utensils, keep in mind that the ones furthest from the plates will be used first.
  • Make sure the utensils are in line with the edge of the dinner plate. 
  • Similar to buffet settings, casual settings usually contain a water glass and a wine glass placed on the upper right-hand side. The water cup should be placed directly above the knives and the wine glass will be to its right above the spoon. 
  • Next, add the dessert utensil above the dinner plates ensuring they are in line with the glassware. For the cake, add a dessert fork with the prongs towards the glassware and for ice cream or sorbet, add a dessert spoon above the fork with the handle towards the glassware. You may either include the dessert silverware as part of the table setting or it may be provided to your guest when the dessert arrives. The position of the dessert utensil handles makes it easy to slide down into place when it’s time to use. 
  • The final step will be adding the dinner napkin! This may be placed to the left under the fork or atop the plates. For informal settings, including napkins in lamour or satin adorned by napkin rings or using intricate napkin folds is always a great way to add charisma to each setting!

Decor Tips

Stylish table linens and table decor are crucial for creating a casual setting! Lamour, satin or taffeta linens are all perfect for casual yet elegant atmospheres. To complement the elegant setting and table linens, be sure to use coordinating eye-catching table candelabra centerpieces

Small floral centerpieces in corresponding tones to dinnerware used are perfect for luncheons. While larger and more elaborate floral centerpieces are great for weddings. For at-home holiday dinners, using candles paired with corresponding holiday decor is a great way to easily enhance the tablescape look!

Formal Place Setting

Formal table settings are used for very formal occasions like black tie weddings, corporate events, and high-end restaurants that will serve full-course meals. Due to the different menus and types of meals served at each event, there are many variations to set up a formal table setting.

Because formal table settings support three-course meals, the number of plates, silverware, and glassware will increase. While this may sound intimidating, we assure you it's not!  

If you are a visual learner, this numbered bird's eye view diagram will help visualize only the essential elements to complete a formal place setting. This will also help analyze the benefits that a well balanced and symmetrical setting offer even with the large amount of dinnerware and cutlery.

To further explain how to set up a formal setting, next, we will elaborate on each component. (Please note, your setting will vary depending on the courses and menu you plan to serve.)

Left

  • For formal place setting, to the left of the dessert utensils, you'll place a bread plate with the butter knife added on top. The butter knife should be placed angled with the handle towards the guest so it is easy to grab.
  • If your event will be a morning or evening event that will serve tea or coffee, the cup and saucer set will be placed to the left of the bread plate.
  • Below the bread plate, you’ll add the forks. To the left of the plates add a dinner fork followed by a salad fork to its left.
  • Next, add a napkin in your preferred placement. Traditionally, it goes to the side of the salad fork to avoid any disturbances as the napkin is removed from the table to be placed on the guest's lap. However, it can also be placed beneath the forks or for an upscale look planner opt for fancy napkin folds placed directly atop the dinner plate.
  • Make sure to add a name card or menu card, where you desire. It can either be placed in the top left corner top center or on the plates themselves.

Center

  • A charger plate is highly recommended and although acrylic chargers are a wonderful option, using glass charger plates will provide a more formal aesthetic.
  • The dinner plate will be set directly on top of the charger followed by a salad plate and topped off with a soup bowl.
  • Above the plates will be the dessert utensils. A spoon will be placed with the handle facing to the right and the dessert fork will be placed underneath with the handle facing to the left. They can be slid down next to the plate once it’s time for them to be used!

Right

  • The right side of the plates will consist of knives and spoons. Start by adding the dinner knife followed by a salad knife, ensure the blades of the knives face the plates.
  • To the right of the salad knife, add a teaspoon (if you’re serving tea) or dinner spoon followed by the soup spoon.
  • Directly above the knives and spoons will be the glassware. Typically with fine dining, there will be an average of 3-5 glasses, as there can be different wines and drinks served for each course.
  • Start by placing the wine glass above the spoons and creating a diagonal line towards the plate you'll add and a champagne flute, and a water glass. If desired you can add a second wine glass and a sherry glass. You’re now done and have successfully finished setting up a standard formal place setting!

Decor Tips

Given that formal settings will require the most utensils, creating a symmetrical setting is very important! Even with many components, a symmetrical setting will be aesthetically pleasing to the eyes allowing your guest to remain relaxed and ready to enjoy each course!

To avoid off-setting the harmonious settings created, be sure to place any centerpieces in the middle of the table and in even numbers. Using a table runner is a great way to ensure all centerpieces are placed in the center of the table creating a well-balanced table setting. Since there are a lot of plates, glasses, and utensils already on the table, you'll want to keep any extra additions simple and sophisticated to match the tone of the event.

Creating simple yet elegant centerpieces will easily be achieved with the use of candles, fresh or faux flowers, or any other decoration that enhances the table without distracting from the meal. The centerpieces should not be too fragrant or tall that guests can't see over the arrangement to converse with others at the table. 



                                 

In terms of table linens, be sure to dress up your tablescape by adding sophisticated sequin or textured linens and napkins. Formal occasion allows you to bring out fancy utensils, glassware, and dinnerware featuring upscale patterns without taking away from the setting!

PRODUCTS USED

One Last Bite

The point of any special occasion is to have fun and be creative when designing and putting together a table setting that reflects the big day's theme and mood. Please note that there are no official, hard-hitting table setting rules and these directives are more of a guideline.

You can add any of the above suggested elements to place settings of any event design whether it's formal or informal. In regards to place settings, you can introduce additional plates, cutlery and glasses to layer and build the setting to include the appropriate dinner-time accoutrements. The most important thing is that you create a place setting that you love and have fun doing it!

IN CASE YOU MISSED THIS:

5 Trendy Wedding Napkin Folds

To take your place setting to the next level, be sure to check out our unique napkin folding blog and learn how to create new and trendy napkin folds for any occasion!

Are you a Visual Learner?

Watch our step by step video tutorial on how to set the table for a casual, buffet, casual, and formal occasion!

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