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How to Set Basic, Informal, and Formal Table Settings

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Setting a table properly doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. Whether you’re hosting a spectacular wedding or a laid-back dinner party with friends, the proper table setting can make your guests feel appreciated and catered to. Here is a simple guide on how to set three types of table settings.

Image of basic table setting

A basic table setting is ideal for an everyday dinner or weekend brunch. In just six steps, you can ensure your guests feel anything but basic at your table.

1. Lay your SKILCRAFT Placemat down and set a dinner plate in the center.
2. Fold a napkin and place it to the left of the placemat.
3. Place the fork to the left of the plate or on the napkin.
4. Above the fork on the left, add a bread-and-butter plate with a butter knife laid horizontally on the plate.
5. To the right of the dinner plate, place the dinner knife, with the blade pointing in. Place the spoon to the right of the knife making sure the bottoms of these utensils are level.
6. Place the water glass above the knife.

Basic Table Setting Tips:

• The napkin goes to the left of the fork, or on the plate. By placing the napkin in the center of the plate, folded or rolled into a napkin ring, you can elevate your setting to a more formal feel.
• To help you remember the order of the plates and utensils, picture the word ”FORKS.” The order, left to right, is: F for Fork, O for the shape of a plate, K for Knives, and S for Spoons. You’ll have to leave out the “R”, but it’s still a handy trick.
• If you want to avoid stealing someone’s bread or drink, hold your hands in front of you touching the tips of your thumbs to the tips of your forefingers you make a lowercase "b” with your left hand and a lowercase "d” with your right hand. This will remind you that “bread and butter” is on the left of the plate and “drinks” go on the right.
• Knife blades always face the plate.
• The bread and butter knife are optional; only set the table with utensils you will use.

Image of informal table setting

An informal table setting is the perfect fit for a friendly dinner party where you will make your guests feel special but not underdressed. This setting is most widely used for dinners with three courses. Remember to only set out the glassware, tableware, and flatware you’re going to be using.

1. Lay your SKILCRAFT Placemat down and set a dinner plate in the center.
2. Place the salad plate on top of the dinner plate and soup bowl on top of the salad plate (if serving soup).
3. Lay a folded napkin to the left of the plate or in the center of the plate.
4. To the left of the plate, place dinner and salad/appetizer forks. The dinner fork, the larger of the two forks, is closest to the plate.
5. On the right of the plate, place the knife closest to the plate, then the teaspoon or dessert spoon to the right. Last, place the soup spoon to the right of the teaspoon.
6. Place the water glass above the knife.
7. To the right of the water glass, place the glass for wine or another beverage.

Informal Table Setting Tips:

• Place salt and pepper shakers near the center of the table, or if your table is rectangular, place them in the middle at each end. If using individual salt and pepper shakers for each guest, place them at the top of the placemat.
• Arrange forks in the order they’ll be used, following an “outside-in” order. If the small fork is needed for an appetizer or a salad served before the main course, place it to the left (outside) of the dinner fork; if the salad is served after the main course, the small fork is placed to the right (inside) of the dinner fork, next to the plate.
• If the main course is meat, a steak knife can take the place of the dinner knife. At an informal meal, the dinner knife may be used for all courses, but a knife that has been used should never be replaced on the table, place mat, or tablecloth.
• If soup is being served first, the soup spoon goes to the far right of the dinner knife; the teaspoon or dessert spoon, which will be used last, goes to the left of the soup spoon, next to the dinner knife.

Image of formal table setting

A formal table setting is reserved for special occasions such as weddings or holiday meals, which may require a more elegant feel. This arrangement will equip you for as many courses as your heart desires.

1. Spread an ironed tablecloth on the table.
2. Set a charger plate on the table in-line with each dining chair.
3. In the center of the charger, place a dinner plate then a soup bowl or salad plate on top.
4. Lay a folded napkin to the left of the charger.
5. On the left of the charger, place the salad fork on the outside, and the dinner fork on the inside. You can put the forks on the napkin, or directly on the tablecloth between the napkin and the charger.
6. Place a bread plate above the forks with a butter knife placed horizontally on top, blade facing down with handle to the right.
7. To the right of the charger, place the knife, the teaspoon, and then the soup spoon.
8. Above the knife, place a water glass. To the right of the water glass about three-fourths of an inch downward, place the white wine glass. The red wine glass goes to the right and slightly above the white wine glass.
9. Directly above the charger, place a dessert spoon (a teaspoon) with the handle to the right. Between the dessert spoon and the charger place a cake fork with the handle facing to the left.
10. If using individual salt and pepper shakers for each guest, place them above the dessert spoon. Otherwise, place them near the center of the table. If using a long rectangular table, place them in the middle of each end.
11. If using place cards, set them above the dessert spoon.
12. To finish the look, decorate the table with a centerpiece or flower arrangement, but ensure it doesn’t block your guests’ view of one another.

Formal Table Setting Tips:

• All vertical flatware (salad fork, dinner fork, knife, and soup spoon) should be spaced evenly, about half an inch away from each other, with the bottoms of each utensil aligned.
• In all place settings, knife blades face inward toward the plate.
• The water glass is kept closer to the dinner plate since people traditionally drink more water than wine during dinner.
• White is considered the most formal color for tablecloths.
• Wine glasses should be set from left to right – white, red, and champagne.

Use these tips for your next dinner party and set your table apart from the rest!

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