Ladylike Laws: How to Set a Proper Table

When you are planning a dinner party, you probably give yourself ample time to arrange your menu, gather ingredients, and do the cooking. But in those last few pre-party minutes spent tossing the salad and doing a quick outfit change (or two), the importance of the table setting often gets overlooked. A properly set table is the canvas for a beautiful and delicious meal. And the specific rules for silverware, glassware, and dinnerware placement are all designed to enhance the experience of the food itself. So, while setting a table might seem like a basic skill, it’s an important one to master.

Just because you aren’t hosting elegant dinner parties every week doesn’t mean you don’t need to know the elements of a proper table setting. After all, the same rules go for restaurant fine dining. If you are out at a nice restaurant to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or other special occasion, you will want to know your soupspoon from your teaspoon and your salad fork from your entrée fork. Keep in mind that place settings will vary depending on what being served, but the tips below provide a good starting place.

Without further ado, check out the diagram below, then pin it to Pinterest, and reference it the next time you are hosting or dining out…

Ladylike Laws: How to Set a Proper Table
  1. The bread and butter plate should be placed on the left-hand side, above your napkin.
  2. The napkin should be folded neatly underneath your forks or on the plate.
  3. The salad fork goes to the left of your dinner fork.
  4. The dinner fork is on the right side.
  5. The dessert fork and spoon are placed horizontally, above your dinner plate. If your dessert does not require one utensil or the other, simply leave it out of your table setting.
  6. The salad plate should be placed atop your dinner plate.
  7. The dinner plate goes on the bottom. In some cases you may have a decorative charger below that.
  8. The water glass goes on the left of the wine glass, on the right-hand side.
  9. The wine glass goes on the far upper right. If you will be serving both red and white, set the glasses for each from left to right in the order in which they will be used.
  10. The coffee cup and saucer go to the upper right of the silverware or are brought out following dinner.
  11. The steak or dinner knife is closest to the plate on the right side. The knife blades always face the plate.
  12. The teaspoon goes directly to the left of the knife.
  13. The soupspoon goes on the far right.

Here’s a tip…
If you have trouble keeping your forks and spoons straight, just remember that you use them from the outside in. On the left side, you start with the salad fork and work your way inside to the entrée fork, and on the right side you start with the soupspoon and work your way inside to the teaspoon. When you are finished with your meal, you should rest your utensils diagonally across the plate.

What other etiquette questions would you like answered?

Share your suggestions for our next Ladylike Laws post in the comments below.

xo Ilana
Team LC

Photos: Anthropologie, Design Within Reach, Crate&Barrel, Crate&Barrel, Crate&Barrel
Sources: Emily Post, Life Hacker, Martha Stewart
Categories: Etiquette, Grow
Share This
  • Ashley

    This incredibly helpful!! I love how you explain each pieces use!
    One note: the teaspoon is the smaller of the two spoons, right? I think you noted 12 and 13 wrong. :)
    Thanks again for this!!

  • Ashley Rizzardo

    This is so helpful! I know a few times I felt a little overwhelmed by everything placed in front of me at the table!


  • Megan R.

    Another great tip to help you remember which side the drink and bread plate go on is to form a circle with your pointer fingers and thumbs. One side will be a “”b”” and one will be a “”d.”” The “”b”” is the side the bread goes on and the “”d”” is the side the drinks go on.


  • Luana. Kaffka genaamd Dengler

    A great reminder!!

  • Dani marie

    I remember my Grandmother’s table during the holidays was set up exactly like this and as a child, I never bothered to really notice. Now that I have a family of my own, I would absolutely love to have special dinner party occasions and serve dinner this way! :)

    Thank you for this tutorial!

    Dani Marie

  • Ashley at Sincerely Miss Ash

    I used to get this mixed up all the time and finally the last two year’s, I finally have it memorized lol! Great post..


  • Ilana Saul

    Love this trick! Thanks for sharing!

  • Renuka

    this is a very helpful post, thank you for sharing!

  • kalamityray

    with my four cats, this would last all of five minutes in my house! still, a great read!

  • Harmony

    My Mom set a formal table every night and taught me when I was young. Its something we all need to know. Good post

  • Ilana Saul

    so funny! i have two kitties too but they get in trouble if they try to climb on the table :)

  • Care bear

    Totally need to know this because I’m the go to hostess when it comes to company coming over to our house. I also finished an interior decorating course, so thanks for this wonderful post.

  • Anhd15

    going to have to memerize this……our fam only has one type of plate and fork though…..take note for when i have my own place….

  • Sophie

    thanks for this tip!

  • Mellow_day

    I was always told to leave the fork and knife on the side of the plate when you’re done… :/

  • Neesha de Souza

    I like to put the napkin on the plate to avoid the awkward shuffle to remove it from underneath the forks. Check out some simple napkin foldings here:

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  • shannon

    Thanks for the diagram…great tips!!

  • Nanci

    She has it correct.

  • Ashley

    Ah, so she does! I’m not sure how I misread that! Thanks! :)

  • katie at Miss enchanting

    This is fabulous! I will definitely be referring back here before my next dinner party!

    Katie x



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