Table Setting 101: How to Properly Set a Table

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Christmas Table Setting Tablescape

When it comes to table setting, do you know the proper layout for your tablescapes, or are you always wondering how to place the silverware and on which side of the plate the napkin goes?

Table setting is easy once you get the hang of it; until then, just print out this handy guide for how to properly set a table and put it in the front of your cookbook for quick reference.

We’re taking the mystery out of how to put together a tablescape and how to properly set a table with these easy to follow step by step instructions.

How To Properly Set a Table

1.  First, put down the foundations.

  • The tablecloth goes on the table first.
  • Next, if you’re using a table runner, that will go on top of the tablecloth.
  • Next, place mats can be put at each setting, or at every other setting if you wish.

2.  Set up the centerpiece.

  • Whether flowers in a vase, a hanging basket from your porch, or another beautiful focal point, make sure the centerpiece is the largest (and tallest) thing on the table.  If it falls short of the height requirement, try adding something underneath.  Even a small container covered with a piece of fabric can act as a makeshift “riser” to lift your centerpiece up.
  • Around the centerpiece, scatter flower petals, glitter, confetti, silk leaves, or any other decorative touch.
  • If you choose, place candles or tea lights in votives around the centerpiece.

3.  Build up the dishes at each place setting. You don’t have to use each piece, but this is the order they go in:

  • Bottom: charger.
  • Next, large plate.
  • Then, small plate.
  • On top of those 3 items, place the bowl.

4.  Place the flatware. In a tablescape you have creative license to place items any place they look nice in the design.  If you’d like to stick with a traditional flatware setting, utensils go in this order:

Print Out This Guide
and store it in the front of your cookbook for quick reference.

To the left of the plate:

  • Closest to the plate, place the dinner fork (larger fork).
  • Furthest from the plate, place the salad fork (smaller fork).

To the right of the plate:

  • Closest to the plate, place the knife. The blade faces the plate.
  • In the middle, place the large spoon.
  • Furthest from the plate, place the small spoon.

5.  The glasses can go directly in front of the plates. Imagining the plate is a clock, the glass goes at 1 o’clock.

6.  Tea cups or coffee cups with saucers are placed next. Imagining the plate is a clock, the cup and saucer goes at 2 o’clock.

7.  The bread and butter plate with butter knife are optional. Imagining the plate is a clock, the bread and butter plate goes at 11 o’clock.  The butter knife is laid across the bread and butter plate.

8.  Place your napkins. Depending on the look you’re going for, napkins can be placed decoratively in the glasses for a splash of color, arranged in a napkin ring and place in the bowl, or set to the left of the flatware on the left side of the plate.

9.  Lastly, arrange your placecards. Let your guests know where they will be sitting by using place cards. They can go to the left of the glass, in front of the plate, or in the bowl.

Next, learn some more about creating great tablescapes.  Tablescapes: Budget Table Settings that Look Expensive (part 1) shows you how to buy all the materials at low prices that you’ll need for frugal tablescapes.  How to Design Budget Tablescapes that Look Expensive (part 2) teaches you tricks that home decorating magazine pros use in their tablescapes.

Find more Tablescape Thursday at Between Naps on the Porch, Works for Me Wednesday at We are That Family, and 11th Heaven.  We originally published Table Setting 101: How to Properly Set a Table on May 19, 2009.

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