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Holiday Table: How to Set a Formal & Informal Dinner Table

Entry #1817, November 13, 2012

Is your holiday table ready for a formal dinner? Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years and all of the other formal holidays are on the way are you ready for entertaining?  Formal dining often has many people nervous because they don’t know how to set a formal or informal dinner table. Before the holidays set in, I thought a fitting post on formal and informal dining table setting would be perfect. Thanks iVillage for these great ideas.

1. Chargers and Placemats

For a formal table:

Place a charger, or presentation plate, at every place setting. If you like, you can place a soup bowl or salad plate on top of it when you serve those courses, but the charger should always be removed before you serve the main course. You also have the option of removing it immediately after guests sit down — the idea is to dazzle them with a beautifully set table when they enter the dining room, and to hold their places at the table. Finally, if you don’t have a set of chargers or just don’t want to bother, you can cheat with the dinner plate instead, or simply use placemats. In this modern age, even formal rules are made to be broken — just be careful with Grandma’s china!

formal table setting idea

Formal table setting ideas

2. Forks, Knives and Spoons

For a formal table:
Forks go on the left and knives and spoons go on the right. (To remember: “Fork” has four letters, as does “left”; “knife” and “spoon” both have five letters, as does “right.”) Diners eat from the “outside in,” meaning soup spoons and saladforks should be farthest from the place setting, since soup and/or salad is typically served first; utensils for the main course — the dinner fork and dinner knife — should be closest to the place setting, since the entree is served last. The knife’s blade should always point inward, toward the dinner plate, since a blade pointing outward might come across as unfriendly, or possibly unsafe. Space all flatware as evenly as you can, depending on the size of your table and number of guests, and align it with the bottom of the charger or dinner plate.
For an informal table:
The same rules apply as above, although usually you would have only a dinner knife and fork, and either a salad fork or a soup spoon, depending on how elaborate your menu is.
formal table setting tips

Set a dining table you will be proud of

3. Water and Wine Glasses

For a formal table:
Water glasses are always positioned directly above the point of the knife. Wine glasses are placed immediately to the right, with red wine glasses closer to the water glass than white wine glasses, if you are serving both types.

For an informal table:

The same rules apply as above, although unless you and your guests are serious oenophiles, you can usually get away with just one wine glass for either type of wine — or use a simple glass tumbler instead. And your water glass and wineglass don’t have to come from the same glassware set — feel free to mix different styles.

4. Napkins

For a formal table:

Place napkins to the left of the forks if there’s room on the table; otherwise, you can place them under the forks, or position them on the charger or placemat.

For an informal table:

Place them under the forks, or in the middle of the place setting.

formal table setting ideas diagram

Diagram for an informal and formal dining table setting

5. Bread Plates

For a formal table:

Rarely seen at home in these carb-conscious days, bread plates go above the forks, with the butter knife laid horizontally or diagonally (pointing toward 10 o’clock) across the plate and the blade facing away from the center of the table.

For an informal table:

Just break bread together the low-key way and pass a bread basket around the table.

6. Dessert Forks and Spoons

For a formal table:

These go directly above the main place setting, positioned horizontally, with the fork’s tines facing right and the spoon’s bowl facing left, and the fork closer to the place setting than the spoon.

Image via: 1, 2, 3

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