MULLINS Special Occasions
Set for Success: Setting Your Table Like a Pro
Posted by: Sarah Lawen Smith Mar 16, 2024

The hour is nearing, the caterer is cooking, and your dinnerware rentals have arrived. You look at the crates and boxes of fancy plates and shiny silverware and find yourself asking, “Where does all this go?” If this sounds like you, don’t fret. If you have never hosted a formal dinner before, it’s only natural to be a bit confused about where all these different elements fit in the larger table setting picture. The good thing is, everything does fit, and everything has its place and purpose. Follow along to learn where everything goes and why, and you’ll be setting tables like a pro in no time.

The Elements of Success

There are a lot of things that can go into a table setting, but the final picture that you aim for will highly depend on both the formality of your event and the number of courses you serve. The most basic table setting contains a dinner plate, a water glass, a napkin, and meal-appropriate flatware. Beyond that, you may also choose to include a charger, salad and dessert plates, bread plates and knives, or glasses for tea, wine, or champagne. Knowing what food you are wanting to serve will help you decide what elements you need or want to include.

The Charger

While at first glance a charger may just seem like a second, fancier plate, it actually serves a few practical functions that add your guests’ dining experience. Though you can get away without it by just placing your dinner plate directly on the table, having a charger does have benefits. Yes, a charger is pretty, and it does contribute to the overall aesthetic of your event, but it also serves as the centerpiece for your place setting that everything else orbits around and the landing pad for the dinner plate to be served. Not only that, but the charger also serves as a buffer between the dinner plate and the tablecloth, lessening the chance for messes and food stains. Additionally, a charger helps to regulate the temperature exchange between your food and the table. It provides insulation to the bottom of the plate, preventing heat from escaping through the table and, therefore, keeping your food warmer longer and protecting the table and tablecloth from heat damage. A charger should be placed at the center of each place, near the edge of the table but not overhanging. In an informal setting, a placemat can be used in lieu of a charger with similar effects.

The Dinner and Salad Plates

Though dinner and salad plates are used for different courses in a meal, they serve similar functions and placed similarly in a setting. The dinner plate is the main receptacle for meals to be eaten from, and they will always end up at the center of the place setting either on a charger or directly on the table. However, where they start depends on the types of meal service. If food is served to the table family style, empty dinner plates can be set on the table for guests to serve themselves. For a plated meal, the plates will stay in the kitchen until the catering staff loads them with food and serves them to each individual guest. For a buffet, the dinner plates can either be included with the table setting or stacked near the buffet tables. When set at the tables, dinner plates should either be placed in the center of a charger plate or directly on the table, about two inches from the edge to prevent accidental spillage. Salad plates can be either empty or pre-plated, and they can be set either on top of the dinner plate or charger, or they can be placed to the upper left of the dinner plate. 

The Flatware

The placement of flatware may seem arbitrary, but it goes back to European etiquette and is surprisingly efficient. Traditionally, forks are to be used in the left hand, and knives and spoons in the right. The placement of flatware directly corresponds to this with forks being laid to the left of the plate and knives and spoon being laid to the right of the plate. They are placed in the order of usage from the outside in (e.g. the salad fork is further away from the plate than the dinner fork). Knives should always be placed with their blades facing the plate for safety. If you are serving dessert, the dessert fork should be placed directly above the dinner plate with the tines pointing to the right, and the dessert spoon should be placed above it in the opposite direction. This, following the same principle as the main flatware, allows the fork to be easily grabbed with the left hand, and the spoon with the right.

The Bread Plate

Just as the charger is the landing pad for the main part of the meal, the bread plate is the landing pad for, you guessed it, all things bread.The placement of the bread plate and the drink glasses is one that is often confused, but there is an easy exercise you can do to remember which side is which. Notice that by placing your thumb and forefinger together on each hand your left hand resembles a “b” shape for “bread,” while your right resembles a “d” for “drink.” Follow this guideline and place the bread plate to the left of the dinner plate, right above the innermost fork, and place a butterknife on top of it. The bread itself can be kept in a napkin lined basket for the table to share, or individual rolls can be placed on the bread plate itself.

The Glasses

Opposite to the bread plate, drink glasses should be placed to the right of the dinner plate, starting just above the innermost knife. Since water should always be offered and available, it should be placed in this first spot. Wine glasses can be set in descending height order starting next the water glass and lining up at a diagonal. This order allows for easy access to every glass without risk of hitting a tall glass over in pursuit of a smaller one. The placement for champagne glasses can vary. A shorter glass, such as a coupe, can be set at the end of line of wine glasses, but a taller flute may look and function better if it is placed in a second row above, right between the water and first wine glasses.

The Napkin

The napkin is the one element in a place setting in which you can be fully creative. You can keep it simple by placing a neatly folded napkin under or to the left of the forks, or you can place it on or under the plate or charger. Alternatively, you can practice a more decorative fold to adorn the plate or nestle into an empty wine glass. The options here are truly limitless, so take the time to try a few different options and find what looks the best to you.


Recent Posts

Planning a Wedding with Children in Mind.
Jul 06, 2024
Tablecloths of Many Weaves: A Beginners Guide to Fabric Types.
Jun 29, 2024
8 Things to Know About Your Event Before Placing Your Rental Order.
Jun 22, 2024
Frequently Asked Question: Deliveries .
Jun 15, 2024