The Perfect Dinner Table: A Guide to Table Setting


Setting the perfect dinner table is not as daunting as it seems at first and we’ll show you just how simple it can be.

Ultimately, it depends on the formality you wish to achieve, but regardless of the situation, great food demands a great setting – let’s show you how to create the right situation to enjoy your meals, whether these are casual, “everyday” dinners or formal dinner parties with friends and family. 

Casual dinner table setting (the basic setting)

  1. Either lay out a cloth, large enough to cover the table or lay out a place mat for each diner.
  2. Place the dinner plate in the centre of the diner’s place at the table. 
  3. If you’re having a salad, set the salad plate on top the dinner plate.
  4. Place the side plate to the left of the dinner plate, leaving enough room for the fork.
  5. Place the fork to the left of the dinner plate.
  6. Place the knife to the right of the dinner plate.
  7. If you are serving dessert, place the spoon either to the right of the knife or horizontally above the plate. The rule is that the spoon follows the knife which means that it will face left; the handle on the right and the bowl on the left.
  8. Set a water glass in the top right-hand corner, above the knife. If you are serving wine (either red or white), set this to the right of the water glass.
  9. The napkin can be placed either underneath the fork or on top of the side plate.

Formal dinner table setting

The starting point is always the basic setting which is dressed up by adding more pieces; additional plates, silverware, glasses and other serving utensils. It is sometimes very confusing, but forks are always on the left of the plate and knives and only the soup spoon to the right. The cutlery should be placed in the order in which it will be used, starting from the outside.



  1. Begin by laying out a crisp tablecloth, large enough to cover the table. White linens are still considered the most formal, but coloured or patterned tablecloths and serviettes can be just as elegant and will add a modern twist. Alternatively, you could use place mats (either white or coloured) to form the first layer of plating. However, if you are using a charger or presentation plate, the place mat is not required. 
  2. Place the dinner plate in the middle of the setting. If you have them, place a charger plate underneath the dinner plate. I have noticed however, that this practice is dying out and does not seem to be as fashionable as it once was. 
  3. Add the salad plate on top of the dinner plate. (not shown in diagram above) 
  4. If soup is being served, place the bowl on top of the salad plate and the soup spoon to the right of the dinner knife.
  5. Place the side plate to the left of the dinner plate, leaving enough room for the fork. If the meal is very complex and a number of forks are provided, the side plate can be placed above and to the left of the forks. All flatware should be evenly spaced, about a centimetre apart.
  6. The butter knife can be placed horizontally on the bread plate.
  7. The dinner fork goes to the left of the dinner plate. Fork prongs face upwards.
  8. The entrée or salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork.
  9. Place the dinner knife to the right of the dinner plate. Knife blades should face towards the plate 
  10. The dessert spoon should be placed horizontally above the dinner plate.
  11. The dessert fork is placed horizontally above the dessert spoon.
  12. All glasses, water, white & red wine, are place above the knives and to the right of the dinner plate. The water glass should be closest to the guest (hopefully they will drink more water than wine!) and the red wine glass goes just behind the white wine glass.
  13. The napkin should be crisp and lightly starched and pressed. Either fold the napkin or use a napkin ring. If the napkin is folded simply, place it on the side plate. However, if folded more elaborately, place it in the centre of the setting. Use napkins rather than serviettes (paper) – help save the environment!
  14. Place cards which can be as simple or formal as you like, but should be placed above the spoon. The guest’s name should be of the on both sides of the card so they can find their place and other guests can see their names.
  15. The coffee cup and saucer are not normally set as part of the place setting at the beginning of the meal, but after service, when coffee and cheese is served, it should be set with the handle towards the right.
  16. Cheese knives will be set to the right of the main knife and the soup spoon. 
  17. If fruit or delicacies such as oysters are being served, the fork will be to the right of the soup spoon.
  18. The centre piece such as flowers should not be too tall – ensure that when sitting, the guests can see each other.
  19. Candle sticks will also add ambiance to the evening but should not be too large. 
  20. Salt and pepper cellars or grinders scattered around the table make them easy to reach.
  21. Gravy boats and condiment dishes for mint sauce and apple jelly should be easy to access for everyone.

Formal dinner parties are a time to bring out the best china, crystal, silver and linen – you want only the finest for your guests.  Now that you know where everything goes, you can add your own creativity by mixing and matching plates, using colourful glassware or adding elaborately folded napkins – the sky’s the limit. Don’t be afraid to mix vintage and new china. The main thing is to experiment and have fun!