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How to Set a Formal Table

Learn how to set a formal table and you'll no longer be intimidated by someone else's!


  • Step 1: Start with the main plate Place a large plate, known as a charger, in the center of the place setting. This plate serves as the underplate for courses that precede the entree, and is taken away when the main dish arrives.
  • Step 2: Lay the napkin Lay a folded napkin on top of the charger.
  • Step 3: Add a bread dish Place a bread dish to the upper left-hand side of the charger, at the 11 o'clock position. Lay a small butter spreader diagonally across the top of the plate, handle on the right at 4 o'clock and blade facing down.
  • Step 4: Get out the knives and spoon Place the dinner knife to the right of the charger. If there's a fish course, place the fish knife to the right of the dinner knife. If you're including an appetizer or salad knife, place it to the right of the fish knife. Make sure the blades face the plate.
  • Step 5: Put out the forks Arrange the forks to the left of the charger in the order in which they will be used, starting from the outside and working in. The only exception is an oyster fork, which is placed on the right side of the plate, to the right of the knives and spoon.
  • TIP: An oyster fork can be used for any shellfish, not just oysters.
  • Step 6: Add a spoon If you are serving a fruit or soup course, place the appropriate spoon to the right of the knives.
  • TIP: Don't put more than three types of one utensil on the table, except for an oyster fork, which can join three other forks. If more utensils are needed, bring them with each subsequent dish.
  • Step 7: Set out glasses Place a water glass above the dinner knife. If you're serving champagne, a flute goes to the right of it. Place wine glasses, ending with a sherry glass, in front of the first two glasses.
  • Step 8: Bring on dessert Bring dessert forks and spoons along with the dessert plate when that course is served.
  • FACT: Erasmus, a Dutchman who wrote the first popular book of manners in 1530, suggested that diners wipe their fingers on the tablecloth, rather than licking them or wiping them on their clothes.

You Will Need

  • Chargers
  • Napkins
  • Bread dishes
  • Butter spreaders
  • Knives
  • Forks
  • Spoons
  • Glasses
  • Dessert plates
  • Dessert utensils
  • Oyster forks (optional)

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