Setting a Formal Table
For many people, the holidays are a time for setting a formal table for their guests. But often, we need to learn or remember how to do this. A formal table setting is traditionally for the convenience of the diners. Although this tradition comes from a long history of meals, there are some basics to know.
Setting a Formal Table for the Convenience of Diners
If you think about how setting a formal table works, you will see how logical it really is. The simple fact of the matter is that you want the eating utensils, spoons, forks and knives to be set with the first used ones to the outside of plate.
Forks are always set to the left of the plate, as you look at the plate. And knives and spoons to the right.
The same is logic is used for multiple glasses. Water glasses go to the top of the knife, then the wine glasses go in the order that they will be used during the meal. So, if you are going to have an opening toast, you put the champagne flute all the way to the right of the rest of the glasses.
With the convenience of the diners in mind, you can see how a formal place setting makes logical sense.
Main Tips for a Formal Table Setting
Here a few things that you need to keep in mind when planning out your formal table setting.
- Set a maximum of 3 courses for the eating utensils. This means no more than 3 forks should be arranged in the initial table setting.
- All knives are set with the sharp side pointing toward the plate or center.
- Determining right and left is from the view point of your guests sitting at their places.
- Glasses to the right, starting above the first knife..
- Bread and butter plate, with butter knife laid across the plate, above the forks.
Where to Put the Dinner Napkins
There are a few options for where to place the napkins in setting a formal table. The most common is to set the napkin on the main or center plate. If you don’t plan to use the main plate, you still leave space for the plate to be set between the eating utensils. And the napkin goes in that space.
It is also acceptable to set the napkin under the forks. This is a bit more awkward for your guests if you have a full complement of forks. So only use this option if you have a single main course fork.
Plan Your Menu First
With setting a formal table, the majority of the arrangement will be determined by your menu and what order you serve various courses. If you serve a salad first, the salad fork or knife will be the ones that are farthest out from the center.
If you plan to serve some interesting dishes or make the meal more than 3 courses, there are some caveats to the basic formal table setting. The Emily Post site has a good diagram showing you these unusual arrangements.
The simple idea to setting a forma table is to think of your guests’ convenience as you lay out your place settings. As long as you present the eating utensils and glassware in the order they will be used, you will have made it more convenient for your guests.