How to Set a Table For a Dinner Party – The Ultimate Guide
how to set a table for dinner party

Hosting and entertaining is a special art and tablescapes are its most important asset. Sure, in such a fast-paced world, it does seem ridiculous to dress up a table. But, in this guide, we explain why it’s important, explain how to set a table for a dinner party, and provide styles you can follow.

What are the Three Styles of Table Set-Up? 

Fancy Dinner Table Setting

For domestic environments, there are three types of table settings. Each corresponds to the tone of the party. For instance, a business buffet would be formal, a birthday celebration would be casual while a daily dinner would be basic — but not boring!


Perfect for business meetings, fine dining, and wedding receptions, the table set-up for a formal setting is extensive. It has silverware placed for six courses, flatware placed for each meal (soups, salads, etc), and glassware placed according to the drink of choice.


Great for hosting baby showers, sweet luncheons, and family festivals, the table set-up for a casual dinner party is designed for a three-course meal. The flatware and silverware are placed according to the meals but are less extensive than the formal tablescape.


Perfect for elevating the environment or an ordinary dining room table or for making family and friends feel welcome at your home, a basic table set-up has enough utensils to cover the dinner and drinks. There is rhyme and reason to it, however, it can be personalized to suit the home.

Are There Rules for Table Settings?

Yes, there are four general rules to table settings — no matter the style being used.

  1. The tablecloth placed at the dinner table must be ironed for a neat look. Get rid of any creases and folds that may get stuck on a dish and take away from the atmosphere.
  2. Place a serving tray in the middle of the table to hold the main course.
  3. If bread is being served, the basket should be placed on the left of the serving plate.
  4. Place silverware beside the guest’s flatware or on either side of the serving plate.

Why is Setting a Table Important?

You’re probably wondering why there are rules and if having a table setting is that important at home. Well, for centuries, etiquette has been followed and passed down to enthusiastic hosts. Here are some reasons why the art of table setting has held up for so long:

Dress to Impress

As the saying goes, we dress the table to leave a good impression on the guests. Even if you’re not one to seek external validation, setting down a table boosts the anticipation of the guests and lets them know you care about their presence. It changes the overall mood in the dining room and has everyone anticipating the meal.

Honor the Guests

By setting a table, you send the message that the guest’s feelings matter to you. You appreciate the fact that they took time out to meet you on this special occasion by accepting your invitation. It also makes them feel welcomed at your home and associate you as a good host. 

Food Tastes Better

Some say we eat with our eyes first – and it’s true. How a table is set and how the cutlery and crockery are placed defines the whole environment and makes food taste better. 

How to Set a Table for a Dinner Party

Holiday Dinner Party Toast

Now that you know why decorating your dinner table is important and what the rules signify, it’s time to learn how to set the table for different kinds of dinner parties:

Formal Business Dinners

  1. Lay down an ironed, crease-free tablecloth that matches the environment.
  2. Place a charger plate with the dinner plate in the middle and a salad plate on top.
  3. Place a bread basket at the top left of the dinner plate along with a butter knife with its handle pointed toward the right.
  4. Add silverware in the order of use on either side of the serving or dinner plate — soup spoon first then others follow.
  5. Place relevant flatware on top of the dinner plate with the topmost dish made for the first course.
  6. Place a water glass, teacup, and drink glass above the dinner plates near the cutlery.
  7. Place a dessert spoon above the dessert plate horizontally for easy access.

Casual Celebrations

  1. After the ironed tablecloth and placemats have been laid out, place a serving plate in the middle of the table.
  2. Add a plate for bread above the serving plate, toward the left, and place a butter knife on top with its handle facing right.
  3. Add the relevant silverware. Salad forks are on the right (if needed) and spoons and knives are on the left. Don’t forget to place them in the order of the courses being served.
  4. Place a water glass and one for drinks on the top right of the serving plate.
  5. Finish up with a neatly tied napkin placed on top of the serving plate.

Basic Set-Up

  1. Place a serving plate over the ironed tablecloth.
  2. If bread is being served, place a small bread plate or basket in the center of the table.
  3. Place a folded napkin on the left of the serving plate with a dinner fork on top, if needed.
  4. Place spoons and knives on the right of the serving plate.
  5. Add a water glass to the top right of the serving plate and your table is officially set for dinner.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the three essential items needed when setting a table?

When setting a table, you’ll need a plate for the main course, relevant cutlery (spoon, knife, fork, etc), a glass for water as well as a napkin. Depending upon the size of the meal, the dinnerware will vary, but this is the basic foundation of a decent tablescape.

What is the proper etiquette for setting a table?

Tablescaping is a century-old art. Over the years, a few rules and etiquettes have been designed to classify themes of different dinners. The #1 rule is to place utensils in the order that they’ll be used. For instance: if the soup is being served first, the soup spoon should be on top then the rest would follow in order. The next rule of etiquette says forks go on the left and spoons with knives on the right — if they’re needed.

Do restaurants also have three kinds of table settings?

No, restaurants have five table settings to incorporate the different styles of dining. The first three are the same: basic for homely cafès, casual for fast food diners, and formal for fine dining. The other two are for special places: the buffet set-up and the five-course set-up.

Final Thoughts

The etiquette revolving around how to set a table for a dinner party may take a few rounds of practice to learn. But, once you get the hang of it, we guarantee you’ll enjoy hosting a dinner even for yourself. 

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