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How to Set a Table:
Table Settings for All Occasions

Table Setting

These days, we’re so used to eating off the lounge room coffee table or our kitchen benchtop that we’ve lost the art of setting the dining table. However, there is an art to it – and a complex one at that.


Since we’re out of shape, it’s hard to know how to set a table. Yet it’s a good skill to have. Your table setting – whether it is for Christmas, a wedding, or just a formal family dinner – is often the first reference point your guests get for the feast ahead. . So if you really want to impress, read our guide to setting the table for:

Table Place Setting Etiquette: The Basics


There are a few standard rules that apply to any table layout, whether you’re hosting this week’s Sunday roast or charged with designing the place settings for the next wedding in the family.

Here are the few stock-standard rules you should know before you launch straight into the Christmas dinner table setting extravaganza.

A basic table setting needs, at a minimum:

  • A table
  • A dinner plate
  • A fork
  • A knife
  • A glass
Basic Table Setting

These standard rules apply across any table setting arrangement. To begin, the plate always sits in the centre of the arrangement, about an inch from the table’s edge.

Everything else revolves around the plate, with an equal distance between each item. Almost without exception, you’ll find the forks on the left and the knives on the right. The knife blade should turn in towards the plate.

If you have more than one course – and so more than one set of cutlery – the “outwards-in” rule applies. That is, keep the cutlery you’ll use for the first course the furthest from the plate.

A handy rule to keep in mind is this: Solids on the left, liquids on the right. This means you keep your bread and butter plate on the left, but any drinking glasses on the right.

Informal Table Settings


An informal dinner is generally considered one that covers two or three courses. That could include a salad or soup, a main course, and a dessert. It’s not a hard slog by any means, but it certainly calls for a bit more fanfare than your regular TV dinner ritual.


When you want to add a bit of flare to your table setting, you may want to consider place mats or a tablecloth. Make sure any placemats are spaced evenly apart, an inch or two from the edge of the table. And of course, try to ensure the tablecloth hangs evenly either side of the table.


  • A dinner plate
  • A napkin
  • A salad plate
  • A fork
  • A salad fork
  • A bread and butter plate
  • A butter knife
  • A dinner knife
  • A teaspoon
  • A soup spoon
  • A water glass
  • A wine glass
  • A mug
Informal Table Setting

You may notice the table setting looks a little more filled out. (which is where an extendable dining table like these may come in handy). Along with the basic table setting etiquette above, there are a few more things to note for an informal dinner.

When you’re serving up an informal dinner, you want to ensure there’s enough cutlery to last the whole meal. You can lay everything out in one go, or you can bring out the mug and saucer or dessert utensils later in the night. If you choose to keep mugs or cups on the table, make sure their handles are tilted to the right.

If you choose to supply a plate for the bread and butter, position it just above the forks, to the left of your dinner plate. Place the butter knife parallel to the table with the handle pointing to the right.

If you’re serving a salad or a soup entrée, you may include a salad fork or a round soup spoon. Whichever the case, these utensils should remain furthest from your plate, alongside the other cutlery.

You shouldn’t have more than one wineglass, although an additional glass or tumbler for water is fine. If you do serve more than one glass or mug, make sure the wine glass sits to the right of the water glass and to the left of the coffee cup.

Dessert spoons can sit either to the right of your dinner knife, or you can position it (along with the dessert fork), just above the plate.

Finally, don’t serve up any utensils you won’t be needing! A salad fork will only serve to fill space if you’re not actually serving a side of greens.

Formal Table Settings

A formal table setting is reserved for those all-out occasions that call for your best china or crystal. It’s usually only an occasion for more than three courses. A typical formal dinner may include a soup followed by a fish course, then the main meal or meat course, a salad, and finally, dessert.

If you really want to get it right, you need to make sure your table setting is entirely symmetrical. Everything should be evenly spaced.

  • A table cloth
  • A charger or service plate
  • A napkin
  • A fork
  • A salad fork
  • A bread and butter plate
  • A butter knife
  • A dinner knife
  • A dessert spoon
  • A dessert fork
  • A soup spoon
  • An oyster fork
  • A water glass
  • A red wine glass
  • A white wine glass
  • A champagne flute
Formal Table Setting

A formal dinner is different to an informal dinner because every used dish and piece of cutlery is taken away at the end of each course. Each new course is brought out on fresh dishes.

There may be a real collection of cutlery, with anything from salad forks to oyster forks on the table. Don’t forget the golden rule to place the fork that will be used first on the outer right edge, and so on.

However there is an exception to this! Make sure your oyster fork sits on the far right, beside your knife or soup spoon.

The formal dinner often features a charger, or service place. The charger is never actually used to eat food on; it serves as a hotplate for the soup and fish courses. It’s removed before the main course comes out.

The napkins can sit either folded on the charger or left of the fork. Alternatively, for an extra flourish, you can place them in a delicate fold in the wineglass.

You’ll note that there are more glasses on the table than you may, perhaps, need. There can be as many as four or five glasses on the table. The water glass stays on the table throughout the meal. However, the red and white wineglasses and champagne flutes are generally reserved for just one course each.

With the gluttony of cutlery surrounding either side of your plate, you can keep the dessert cutlery separate. Place them instead above your plate, with the dessert fork placed horizontally directly above the charger. The dessert fork will have the handle to the left. The dessert spoon goes above it with the handle to the right.

You’ll note an absence of the cups and saucers. These only come out when all the other courses have been finished and the table is cleared for coffee and tea at the end of the meal (and for a well-deserved catering break!).

Wedding Table Settings

A wedding is a glamorous show, which the dining tables should reflect. The dining settings are typically designed to go along with the overall wedding theme.

This is a real excuse to show off your formal table setting know-how. But there are a few extra morsels you’ll want to add to the arrangement to make it stand out.

Your wedding table setting can begin with:

  • A napkin
  • A fork
  • A salad fork
  • A bread and butter plate
  • A butter knife
  • A dinner knife
  • A soup spoon
  • An oyster fork
  • A dessert spoon
  • A dessert fork
  • A water glass
  • A red wine glass
  • A white wine glass
  • A champagne flute
  • A place card
  • A name card
  • Tall candles or tea candles
  • Low floral arrangements
  • A table runner
Wedding Table Setting

You’ll want crisp, white tablecloths as a base layer for the table. But you can overlay it with a more decorative table runner; something with golden seams or lace edges works well. Often the wedding table setting begins without a charger. The napkin and menu card takes its place, and each plate is brought out with each course.

Then there are the centrepieces, which will mirror the wedding theme with colours and displays. You can get creative choosing centrepiece decorations. Candles are popular choices, as are professional floral arrangements.

Make sure the centrepiece items remain low or indiscrete so they don’t interfere with cross-table conversation. And keep all candle flames clear of petals and leaves!

Finally, there are the place cards and menu cards. These need to be clearly visible to all guests so they can easily find their way to their place around the table. They are typically placed just above the charger, with the full name facing the chair.

Finally, there is the menu card. This is typically place on top of the charger, either over the napkin or directly on the plate itself.

On one last note, it’s worth remarking that wedding table settings typically use subtle hues with neutral tones and just a hint of colour in the décor. But don’t forget, there are no hard and fast wedding table setting rules. This is a chance for the bride and groom to put a personal stamp on their wedding whichever way they wish.

This post from Modern Wedding is great for wedding table setting inspiration, as is this post from In Spaces Between.

Christmas Table Settings

We love a Christmas table for the decorative opportunities it provides. You can start with the standard formal or informal table arrangement. But from there, you have license to go all-out festive.

Your classic Christmas dinner table setting might include:

  • A napkin
  • A table runner
  • A placemat
  • A charger or service plate
  • A napkin
  • A Christmas cracker
  • A fork
  • A salad fork
  • A bread and butter plate
  • A butter knife
  • A dinner knife
  • A dessert spoon
  • A dessert fork
  • A water glass
  • A wine glass
  • Candles
Christmas Table Setting

Firstly, there is the tablecloth, the table runner, and/or the table placements. You can choose your combination of these. But for a bit of fun, you can go for a touch of festive colour.

Unlike a wedding table, colour is the name of the game with Christmas table settings. You want your table to scream festivity – in an elegant way, of course. Green, red, gold and silver ornamentations are ideal.

Often, the Christmas dinner is a time to include a few more earthly decorations on the table. We love this inspiration from realestate.com.au and these tips from News Local.

But there’s one other touch you’ll want to add to your Christmas table that makes it unique among dinner table settings: the Christmas cracker.

There’s no rule to where the Christmas cracker must go (it will disappear from the table before the meal is even served anyway). But a popular place is over the top of the napkin on the charger. Alternatively, you can place it above the main plate.

The Right Table for Your Dinner Party

It goes without saying that your dinner table settings are only as good as the legs they stand on – or in this case, the dining table.

Here at Brosa, we pride ourselves on stocking high quality, designer dining tables. Your dining room is your own hosting playground, so you should have the best quality furniture as a basis for a memorable evening. Browse our range of dining furniture and dining chairs today.