How to Set a Formal Table + Video


Unless you’ve worked in a 5-star restaurant or attended etiquette school, you may not know how to set a formal table or even feel comfortable eating from one.

Well, there is no need to feel intimidated. Setting a formal table is actually not hard at all. Once you understand the basics, you’ll be ready to pull out your best dishes (or borrow some from the neighbors) and host your own 5-star event.


A formal place setting includes all of the utensils required for the entire meal, course by course.

Guests begin eating with the utensils placed on the outside of the setting. At the end of each course, the used dishes and utensils are cleared away, leaving behind the utensils and dishes needed for the remaining courses.

In the illustration above, the table is set for a four course meal: Soup, Salad, Entree, and Dessert. If you plan to serve additional courses, such as an appetizer or a fish course,  you may need to add additional flatware to the table.

The rule for stemware is the same as for utensils. Use a separate glass for each kind of wine or champagne, plus a water glass for each place setting. Traditionally a coffee cup is placed on the table. To save space on a small table, we recommend leaving the coffee cups off the table (unless you are serving brunch). Just bring them to the table when you serve dessert.


Take a look at your menu to determine the number of courses you will be serving and what items you will need for each place setting. Pull out your dishes, silverware, and stemware and count them up. Do you have enough of everything? If not, you may need to borrow some or invest in a few new pieces. (If you are on a budget, be sure to check out stores like Marshall’s and Ross – you will be amazed at the deals you can find on dishes and stemware at these discount stores).


A formal table generally requires a table cloth or placemats. Make sure yours are clean, pressed, and spot free. Use cloth napkins or oversized, good quality paper napkins.


Candles, a beautiful center piece, place cards, and individual salt and pepper shakers all help to create the mood for a formal meal.

Watch this video from Real Simple Real Life to see just how easy it is to set a formal table and bon appetite!


  1. margretta says:

    I love this! What a great idea to share as we all get ready to make out tables beautiful for thanksgiving.

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