How to Set a Formal Dinner Table

by Alli

As a southerner, I’m a stickler for proper table manners and table settings. One of the first things I taught my kids (when they were old enough) was how to set a formal dinner table.

I always added, “You never know when you’ll be invited to dine at the White House!” I’m still holding my breath on that one, but I think all kids (and adults) should, at bare minimum, know where the napkin, forks, spoons and knives go and how to properly use them.

At my house, most of our meals are informal until it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas. These 2 meals are so special to my family and me, so I like to get fancy, complete with candles.

I’ve tuned out the cries of “I can’t see my food” from all the guys. They are such boys!  But deep down they love it, too!

One of my pet peeves is to see a formal table not set properly on a movie or a TV program. I mean, what is their problem?  

I know rules have changed, proper etiquette has been thrown under the bus and repeatedly ran over, but come on, at one point in your life you’ll probably be invited to a formal dinner. Will you know what to do? You will now!

How To Set A Formal Table


It’s not that difficult to set a proper table.  You just have to remember two rules:

Utensils are placed in the order of use.

How to Set a Formal Dinner Table

When you sit down to a formal dinner party and you see a gazillion utensils, don’t panic. Always start from the outside and work your way in.

The forks go to the left of the plate and the knives and spoons go to the right.

The knives are always placed with the cutting edge facing the plate.

Flatware should align with the bottom rim of the charger or dinner plate. (I’m a fanatic about everything lining up!)

The napkin is usually placed to the left of the forks or on the plate.

Stemware is placed above and to the right of the dinner plate: The water glass stands above the dinner knife with the wine glass (or iced tea!) to it’s right.

Formal Table Setting

Napkin Etiquette For Formal Dinner Table

When do you place your napkin in your lap?

Usually, you place your napkin in your lap as soon as you sit down. At a formal dinner, place your napkin in your lap after your hostess places hers in her lap!

When dinner is over, place your napkin to the left of your plate.


Have you ever been to a buffet dinner party and the food was not arranged on the buffet correctly? The main dish is always placed after the plates and serving forks.

How to Set up A Buffet

Do you ever host formal dinner parties?

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