How to Set a Table: An Essential Guide to Silverware Placement

A detail of silverware placed on a gold patterned napkin next to blue porcelain

From designing the perfect tablescape to creating a beautiful plate, the art of entertaining relies on having an eye for every last detail — and those details can set the tone for your event. Whether you’re hosting a casual gathering or an elegant dinner party, knowing how to properly set a table is vital. Here, we explore everything a host needs to know about how to set a table, including understanding types of flatware to mapping out a basic table setting or a formal table setting.

Silverware Placement 101

  1. Place utensils in the order of their use. The first course should start with the outermost layer and work inward. This means that the salad fork should be placed to the left (or outside) of the dinner fork because salad is eaten before the main.
  2. Forks should be placed to the left of the plate. There are only a few exceptions to this rule: the dessert fork, which is placed above the plate, and the snail and oyster forks, which are both placed on the right side.
  3. Spoons are laid on the right side of the plate, aside from the dessert spoon which, similar to the dessert fork, is placed above the dinner plate.
  4. Only the silverware that will be used to eat the meal should be placed on the table. If you are not serving dessert, do not lay out a dessert fork.
  5. Knife blades should always face the plate, except for the butter knife which lays on top of the bread plate pointing down and left.
  6. Napkins should be placed on the left of the fork, or, on the plate before service.
  7. Lay silverware starting about one inch from the plate, leaving room for service. Also, make sure you line up the bottom edge of the silverware for a neat appearance.

Now that you know the basics of silverware placement, explore different types of table settings below. When deciding which to implement for your event, first consider how formal the meal will be.

Basic Table Setting 

Opt for a basic table setting if you are hosting a meal at home or want a laid-back, informal environment. This look is perfect for impromptu gatherings, and likely won’t require hunting down additional utensils. Everyday cutlery and plates from your kitchen should be sufficient.

Formal Table Setting 

A formal table setting is best suited for a more sophisticated, elegant affair where multiple courses will be served. Here, it’s where the details matter most: take note of the length of the overhang from your table runner or tablecloth and the number of candles placed on your tablescape to ensure you’re not to overcrowding the setting.

Wedding Table Styling Tips

A person’s wedding is likely the most important event they will ever host. Every element reflects the tone of the day, including the reception tables where guests will spend a large portion of the evening. If you are having a buffet, an informal, basic table setting may be a better option. If you opted for a dinner service and multiple courses, consider a formal table setting for your guests.

For couples who are planning their wedding, it’s helpful to take stock of what you both currently own so you have an idea of what you need to add to your registry. This will also aid in deciding what you want your wedding tablescape to look like. Below, we explore a few popular wedding table layouts, but you can also find more wedding decoration ideas here.

Sources: Slate | FTD | Emily Post | The Knot
Image credits: Yonder Design | Michael Radford | Kayla Barker