How To: The Formal Table Setting

How To: The Formal Table Setting

How to set a Formal Table Setting

Hosting a formal event and need to know how to create the ultimate formal table setting? We're here to help!

The placement of table coverings and tableware creates an atmosphere of celebration and elegance. When laid out correctly, diners need not search for the correct tableware because the best utensil or glass for the dish or beverage currently before them is always right at hand. In this article, we'll be discussing the ultimate formal table setting and how you can create it. 

Should I opt for a Formal or Informal table setting?

Generally, the table setting will be dictated by the type of meal being served. An informal setting has minimal tableware and is used for up to a three-course meal. Informal table settings will often be used in high street restaurants and private settings within the household.

A formal meal requires attention to the specific rules for setting the table. These rules have evolved over centuries of diplomatic and social practice. Unlike an informal setting where all flatware is placed on the table at once, formal setting has items removed and added throughout the meal. For example, a meal of six courses calls for a formal setting.

How to set a Formal Table Setting

Table Cloths and Coverings

A formal table may have a tablecloth and a runner that cover the whole table or place mats that allow the table to show if it is attractive or of interest. A pad or protector should be under the tablecloth both to protect the table and to dampen sound from utensils against the table surface. We recommend our range of Linen Hire, including the Linen Tablecloth White Ivy Leaf 72in x 144inLinen Tablecloth White Round 120in and so many more! Don't forget additional linen such as Napkins for the finishing touch! We recommend our Linen Napkin White 20in x 20in.

The tablecloth should hang equally on all sides of the table. Pull the chairs away and walk around the table adjusting where necessary. Roll the runner out along the centre of the table and adjust it so its ends are 1/2 inch from the edge of the table.

If using place mats they should also be 1/2 inch from the table's edge directly in front of the chairs, which should be evenly spaced around the table. Place a cover plate in front of each chair. The edge of the cover plate should be 1 inch from the edge of the table.


The placement of plates and all tableware is governed by the menu that is being served. A sample menu would include:

  • An appetizer such as shellfish
  • The first course such as soup or fruit
  • A fish course
  • The entree or main course and the salad.

The salad may be served either with or after the entree.

The service plate or charger is the under/base plate. Try our Charger Plate Gold Rim 12in for a hint of elegance

The butter plate is small and is placed above the forks at the left of the place setting.

Forks, Knives and Spoons

The forks are on the left of the plate, the knives and spoons are on the right. Working outward from the inside by the plate, the dinner fork is first, and then the fish fork.

If the salad is served before the fish, then the forks would be arranged (right to left): dinner fork, fish fork, salad fork.

On the right working outward from the inside by the plate are the knives with their cutting edge facing inward toward the plate. The knives are arranged (left to right): dinner knife, fish knife, salad knife.

The spoons are next out from the plate to the right of the knives, soup spoon first then the fruit spoon.

If shellfish are to be served, the oyster fork is placed to the right of the spoons and is the only fork ever placed to the right of the plate.

The small butter knife (spreader) is placed diagonally on top of the butter plate, with the handle pointing to the right and the blade down toward the forks.

The dessert fork and spoon are usually brought in when the dessert is served.

Check out our range of Cutlery for your Table Setting, including our popular Arcade range.  

Glasses, Cups and Napkins

There may be as many as five glasses on a formal table setting and they are placed above the knives and spoons so that the smaller ones are on the right.

The water goblet is placed directly above the knives. Then to the right of that go a

champagne flute,red wine glass or white wine glass and a sherry glass

Coffee cup and saucer are placed to the right of knives and spoons.

The napkin is placed on top of the charger if there is one, or in the space for the plate.

Centrepieces, Candles and Salt

The flower arrangements or other centrepiece items should never be above eye level. Position the candle holders so that diners can make eye contact across the table.

Individual salt and pepper shakers go above the main course fork at each place. Shared shakers go between the chargers.

Check out our image below for a helpful visual guide to the ultimate formal table setting!

3rd Feb 2023