• Setting the table sets the mood for your meal, whether it's a casual supper for two or a special dinner with family and friends.
  • While there are lots of ways to set a table, the basic setting is all you'll need for most occasions.
  • We've put together a list of all the items you need to set a simple table and show you how to do it.
  • Plus, we explain how to add extra pieces to the table setting for a more sophisticated look.

Hosting your first dinner party? Are friends and family coming in for the holidays? Maybe your in-laws are coming to your new place for dinner for the first time? There are lots of different situations where you need to know how to set a table, from everyday casual meals to larger dinner parties.

Setting the table can seem like an intimidating task, especially if you never learned how to do it, but don't worry, it's not hard. There are really only a few must-have items you need to set the table.

The etiquette experts at Emily Post - an etiquette site named after Emily Post, who wrote a famous book on etiquette rules in 1922 - helpfully reminds us of the main rule, which is to set the table only with utensils you will use. In other words, if you're not having a first course or salad, you only need one fork.

Post's guide goes on to explain that "utensils are placed in the order of use; from the outside in … Forks go to the left of the plate, and knives and spoons go to the right." Always remember that utensils should be placed in a way that makes them the most useful. This is why you place the fork and knife on opposite sides so you can easily pick them up.

Once you have all of the items below, it's your choice if you want to add a table cloth or runner and any extra plates, bowls, glasses, or flatware on the table. We'll go over these extras later, but first, let's get the basic table setting down.

Here's everything you'll need to set the table:

  • Placemats
  • Affordable dinnerware
  • Porcelain dinnerware
  • Napkins
  • Cutlery
  • Water glasses

Keep scrolling to read our step-by-step guide on how to set a table:


How to set a basic dinner table

  1. Lay the placemat on the table.
  2. Center the dinner plate on the placemat.
  3. Place the napkin on the left side of the plate or on the plate.
  4. Lay the fork on the napkin or on the right side of the napkin.
  5. Lay the knife next to the right side of the plate, blade pointing in. Lay the spoon next to the knife.
  6. Place the water glass above the plate and slightly to the right, so it's between the plate and the knife.

That wasn't so hard, now was it? I bet you're ready to move on and learn how to add more to your table-scape.

The number of extras you add will depend on the size of your table and the level of formality you want to achieve or the mood you want to set. Adding more items makes a table feel more formal or fancy, while a table with fewer items suggests a no-frills meal.


Here's what else you can add to the basic table setting for more formal meals

  • Tablecloth: Your tablecloth should be wrinkle-free and lying flat on the table. 
  • Table runner: Some people prefer the more casual look of a runner in lieu of a tablecloth. It should also lay flat and run down the center of the table. 
  • Wine glasses: Always place your wine glass to the right of the water glass. 
  • Salad fork and spoon: The fork will rest to the left of the dinner fork and the spoon goes to the right of the dinner spoon. Remember to start from the outside and work your way in. 
  • Salad plate: Place the salad plate on top of the dinner plate. 
  • Dessert spoon: This little guy can rest horizontally above the dinner plate. 
  • Bread plate and butter knife: Place the plate above and to the left of the dinner plate. 

Finally, it's always nice to have salt and pepper shakers on the table, and if you have room, candles in candle holders,fresh flowers in a vase, or a small bowl of fruit for decorative purposes.

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