How to Set a Formal Table

How to Set a Formal Table

Wondering where the fish fork goes, how to arrange your wine glasses and Champagne flutes? Here’s Peggy Post to the rescue.


 All the parts of a formal table are geometrically spaced: the place settings at equal distances from one another, the utensils balanced on either side of the individual place settings, and the centerpiece in the actual center of the table. A formal place setting is usually comprised of the following:


· Service plate, also called a charger: The service plate is the traditional way to ensure that a formal place setting is never left empty. The first course is placed on top of the service plate, which remains in place even when the first course is cleared. The plate containing the entree is then exchanged for the service plate.

· Butter plate: On the left side of the place setting, above the forks.

· Napkin: Placed either in the center of the service plate or to the left of (not under) the forks.

· Salt and pepper: Positioned to be easily accessible by each diner. If individual sets are available, the pair is at the top of each place setting, either in the center or slightly off to one side. When salt and pepper are shared, there should be at least one set for every four diners.

· Crystal: Placed directly above the knives on the right side of the place setting. Arranged according to size, the first glass starting on the left is the water goblet. Next comes the red wine glass, then the white wine glass. Others may be added, such as a champagne flute (placed slightly behind the water goblet and the red wine glass).

· Place card:If a place card is used, it is put either on top of the napkin in the middle of the service plate or directly on the tablecloth at the exact center of the place setting, above the service plate.

· Salad fork: Placed directly to the left of the plate, to the right of the entree fork.

· Fish fork: If there is a fish course, the fish fork is on the outside, to the left of the meat (or entree) fork.

· Meat (or entree) fork: Positioned to the left of the salad fork.

· Salad knife: Just to the right of the service plate.

· Meat knife: To the right of the salad knife.

· Butter knife: Across the top of the butter plate, positioned somewhat diagonally with handle on the right.

· Soup spoon and/or fruit spoon: Placed outside the knives.

Each knife is always placed with the cutting edge toward the plate. No more than three of any implement are placed on the table. The utensils are placed in the order in which they are used. If more than three courses are served before dessert, the utensil for the fourth course is brought in with the course; or the salad fork and knife may be omitted and brought in when salad is served. Traditionally, dessert spoons and forks are brought in on the dessert plate just before dessert is served.


Peggy Post is the author of the latest edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette; the main spokesperson of Emily Post Institute, Inc.; and a monthly column for both Good Housekeeping and Parents magazines

This text excerpted from The Experts’ Guide to 100 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do, by Samantha Ettus. For more information, visit


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Published on December 22, 2005

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