How to Set a Table: Basic, Casual & Formal Dinner Setting

how to set a table

Appearances and first impressions are essential. In the hospitality industry, they can be crucial. How a restaurant sets its tables and presents its food is almost as important as how the dishes taste.

If you’re a restaurateur, you must ensure that your customers have faith in your establishment right from the moment they sit down. And that starts with knowing how to set a table properly.

While basic table-setting skills are simple to master, achieving a truly fabulous look for your tables takes a little practice. Keep reading to learn how to set a table correctly for any dining experience.

Why Table Setting Is Important

Whether you offer your customers a formal dining experience or run a more casual restaurant, your table settings play a significant role in setting the mood. A table set the right way will enhance the look of your food and give your customers confidence in your restaurant.

Think of how a guest feels when they first sit down at a table in a restaurant: the first impression will be how well the table is laid out.

Knowing how to set a table the right way does more than just lift the ambience of your restaurant. It can also help protect your customers from getting ill. A well-set-out table gives people confidence that the restaurant is run professionally. They’ll be more likely to believe the food will be prepared to strict safety standards.

Since the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, good hygiene has been seen as more critical than ever. Three-quarters of UK diners said that hygiene was a significant factor in choosing a restaurant according to a recent survey. Two-thirds of respondents stated they only visited dining establishments they could trust.

Times are tough in the hospitality industry. More restaurants and cafés in the UK are going out of business than ever before.

But, with so many people posting images of their meals on Facebook and Instagram, tightening up your table-setting game can help you build your reputation and customer base.

Let’s begin with the basics.

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Basic Table Setting

Basic table setting involves more than just throwing knives and forks on a table. Even if you run a super casual establishment, it pays to provide your guests with a well-laid-out table that provides them with everything they need to enjoy their meal.

A basic table setting should include a tablecloth, a placemat, cutlery, a dinner plate, a drinking glass and a napkin.

To lay out the table, simply follow the below instructions:

  • Put the tablecloth on the table and set the placemats in front of the guest’s chairs
  • Put dinner plates in the middle of the placemats
  • The napkins should be laid at the left of the plate
  • The fork should be placed on the napkin
  • The knife should be put to the right of the plate with the blade facing inwards
  • If there’s a spoon, set it to the right of the knife
  • The bottom of the utensils should be in alignment with the bottom of the plate
  • Put the water glass slightly above the plate between the plate and the cutlery. About where 1 pm would be on a clock

How to Set a Casual Table

Getting your informal table setting right can elevate the dining experience and enhance the style of your restaurant.

When setting a casual table, you don’t need to empty the entire cutlery drawer. The only real difference to the basic table setting above is the addition of a soup bowl, a salad plate and a dinner plate. Add a serrated steak knife if you’re serving robust meat.

Follow the instructions above, but place the salad plate on top of the dinner plate and then put the soup bowl on top of that. The steak knife can replace the usual knife or sit to the right of it. If a wine glass is needed, place it next to the drinking glass.

If you’ve got salt and pepper shakers for each guest, they should go at the top of the placemat. If the salt and pepper is communal, it should be in the centre of the table, or you should place a set at each end. If anything is not needed, don’t lay it out!

How to Set a Table for a Formal Dinner

Here’s where things start to get complicated. A formal dinner setting is a lot more involved.

Because a formal dinner usually consists of three or more courses, your guests will require more flatware, glasses, and cutlery.

Traditionally, a formal table setting will not include a placemat. Instead, a charger plate is used. Charger plates are large plates that protect the tablecloth and help to keep the food warm. Chargers are for decorative purposes only and are not meant to come into contact with food.

You’ll also need:

  • A pressed tablecloth (preferably white or without a pattern)
  • Dinner plates
  • Soup bowls
  • Salad plates
  • Bread plates
  • Napkins (preferably white, preferably linen)
  • Salad forks
  • Dinner forks
  • Knives
  • Soup spoons
  • Butter knives
  • Dessert spoons
  • Water glasses
  • Wine glasses (red or white or both)

The first thing to put on the table is the charger, followed by a soup bowl on top of it. The bread plate should be placed at the top left of the charger. The napkin goes to the left. The salad fork and the dinner fork also go on the left with the salad fork on the outside. The forks can be on the napkin or to the left of it.

On the right side of the charger, lay out the knife and the soup spoon. The knife should be closest to the charger, with the edge facing inwards. Space all the cutlery evenly apart and line the ends up with the bottom of the charger plate.

The butter knife and bread plate should be at the top left of the charger. The edge of the butter knife should face toward the charger with the handle pointing in the guest’s direction. The dessert spoon should be put directly above the charger, with the handle pointing to the right.

The water glass should be put above the knife. To the right of the water glass, place the white wine glass. The red wine glass is set to the right and slightly above the white wine glass.

If there are individual salt and pepper shakers, they go above the dessert spoon. Or in the middle or the ends of the table. Place cards should be put above the dessert spoon.

Usually, the charger holds a place for the dinner plate, so it’s removed after the salad course before the main course is served.

If the information above is confusing, this formal table setting diagram may be more straightforward to replicate.

Formal Dinner Table Setting

How Do You Set a Table for Lunch?

Lunch is often a much more casual affair than dinner. So, you can stick with the basic table setting format but add a bread plate and a butter knife. If soup is to be served, put the bowl on the dinner plate.

How Do I Incorporate a Centrepiece in My Table Setting?

To really make an impact, add a centrepiece to your table. You can place an artfully arranged flower bouquet, a vase, candles, or anything. As long as it’s tasteful and doesn’t block the guests’ view of each other. No one wants to move foliage out of the way to see their beloved on a dinner date!

The Link Between Correct Table Setting and Food Hygiene

If you run a food service business, you must do everything possible to make your customers feel comfortable, welcome, and safe.

Our Food Hygiene Courses provide hospitality workers with essential knowledge about handling and preparing food safely.

These courses will ensure you meet legal requirements and help protect your customers, team, and business.

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