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Table Settings - Part II

Formal Place Settings

Jump to:-    Cutlery  |  Glasses  |  China  | Napkins  |  Place Cards  Table Decorations  | Sample Menus

Go To:-    Part I - Essentials   |  Part III - Informal Place Settings  |  Part  IV - Buffet Table Settings  |  Napkin Folding

One question which is constantly asked when it comes to table settings is should the dessert spoon and fork be placed above the place setting horizontally, or in line with the other cutlery?  Which of the following place settings is correct?


Figure 1

Figure 2


In fact both are acceptable ... but in different circumstances. A good rule of thumb to adhere to is to base your decision on how many courses are being served. Any more than three, as in figure 1 above,  and it's proper to place all the cutlery at each side of the place setting. Figure 2 above shows a less formal setting where only three courses  are being served. In general, at a formal dinner, all cutlery will be placed at the sides unless space is limited.




There is an accepted way of laying the cutlery so as not to confuse diners, especially where 4 or more courses are being served and no matter where you go in western societies, formal place settings will adhere to the basic principle.


Knives and spoons are placed on the right hand side of the place setting and forks are placed on the left hand side. All the cutlery should be placed in the order in which they will be used, so the first utensil, usually the butter knife which will be used for bread rolls or similar, should be on the right hand side furthest from the plate, then second utensil - perhaps the soup spoon - on the inside of the butter knife and so on until eventually you will have the dessert spoon right next to the plate.  


The same applies to the forks on the left hand side of the setting. All knife blades should be facing towards the plate  and forks should be placed with their prongs facing upwards. 


Specialist cutlery such as escargot holders or shell fish picks can be brought to the table with the relevant course.

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Soup Spoons

Generally have a rounder bowl and are bigger than dessert spoons

Fish Cutlery

Sometimes slightly smaller than main course cutlery and have specially shaped blades or prongs

Main Course Cutlery

The largest of all the knives and forks with a straight shape. Knives also sometimes have serrated blades.


Serving cutlery can be placed on the table close to where the serving dishes will be placed, depending on whether diners will be allowed to help themselves and condiment sets should also be placed  strategically on the table.




At formal meals, it is customary to serve a different wine with most of the courses, so there may be several glasses for each place setting. In general, white wine glasses are smaller than red wine glasses with dessert wine glasses being the smallest of all.


They should be arranged in the order in which they will be used and placed directly above the corresponding knife on the right. So if a fish course is being served, a medium sized white wine glass should be placed directly above the fish knife, then the wine glass for the entree should be placed directly above the main course knife and so on. Arrange them at an angle towards the centre so that there is room for the water tumbler  above the dessert spoon as shown in the picture (left). Notice the small butter knife is still in place and there is a soup spoon, but the first wine glass is above the fish knife indicating that no wine will be served with the soup and there is no wine glass above the dessert spoon indicating  that there will be no wine served with the dessert.


Liqueur glasses should be brought in with the coffee and liqueurs.





For formal dinners, the choice of china can greatly enhance the occasion. White non patterned crockery always looks elegant and has the added advantage of not detracting from the food.  The side plate always goes to the left of the place setting and place mats or charger plates can be placed between the knives and forks if desired.


In general, plate sizes increase with each course and whilst it is perfectly acceptable to have the main dinner plates in situ at each place setting at the beginning of the meal, it does have the disadvantage that the plates will be cold when the main course is eventually served.


It is also acceptable for individual first course servings to be put in each place (on top of the charger or main course plates)  before the diners get to the table.




Cloth napkins are the choice for formal or special occasions. There are  three ways napkins can be presented on the table.


1. In napkin rings and placed to the left of the place setting -  on the side plate is a good place. Roll or fold neatly before placing in the napkin ring.


2. Placed attractively in the largest wine glass.


3. Plainly or decoratively folded and placed in the centre of the place setting or on the side plate.


Visit our page Napkin Folding Videos for easy to follow instructions on how to create a variety of napkin folds.


Place Cards


For larger dinners, these can be a handy addition to ensure your guests are seated next to people you feel they'll get on with. They should be relatively small, but clearly visible as soon as diners get to the table, printed or written in fancy handwriting or calligraphy.


Table Decorations


Adorning the table with flowers or fruit arrangements can really set the table off however be careful not to overdo it, especially if there are going to be  serving dishes set on the table.  Also, arrangements should be relatively low so that they don't obstruct guests' views of each other.


Sample Menus for a formal dinner


Formal dinners usually consist of between 4 and 6 courses. Below are samples of what could be served


4-Course Menu 6-Course Menu

The art of planning a well balanced menu for a formal dinner is a science unto itself and will be covered separately.



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