How To Set a Formal Table Properly

Take a cue from the etiquette pros on how to prep your table for a formal dinner.

Plates and silverware are easy with most people being familiar with their basic placements — now, onto the glassware and side plates. As a general rule, glasses are set to the upper right side above the knives, and butter and salad plates are on the upper left. Martha Stewart says that the bread plate is placed about 1-2 inches above the forks with a butter knife placed either horizontally or diagonally across and blade facing downwards. The water glass is stationed above each guest’s dinner knife with wine glasses to the right in the order they shall be used.


There are varying ways in which the glasses can be arranged, mostly depending on space and preference. To keep it simple, the glasses can be in a straight or diagonal (slanting downwards) line or in a triangle with the red-wine glass at the peak and white-wine glass on the lower right.

Not forgetting the best part of the meal — dessert — let’s talk quickly about that too. Martha Stewart suggests that the dessert spoon and fork can either come out with dessert or be placed above the setting horizontally with the fork below and tines facing right and spoon above, bowl facing left. Personally, I prefer the look of the preset utensils. When dessert and coffee are served, everything from the setting should be removed except the water glass. The cup and saucer are to the right of the dessert setting with the coffee spoon on the right side of the saucer.

The hosts are not the only ones following guidelines — when guests are finished with a course, they should place their silverware diagonally across the plate at 4:20 with the blade facing inwards. Serving etiquette exists too, but at least you now know how to begin with a formal table setting. By employing these simple rules, a table can be transformed into a personal work of art, and guests will always remember the effort made in making them feel welcome.


Tina Stewart, Just Luxe