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Table Settings
Part I - General Essentials

Go to:-     Part II - Formal Place Settings  |  Part III - Informal Place Settings  Part  IV - Buffet Table Settings  |  Napkin Folding 

Jump to:   Table Cloths & Place Mats  |  Napkins  |  Flatware  |  Glasses  |  China  |  Condiment Sets


Although most of us keep everyday dining at home informal, there are occasions when you may wish to give a special dinner party at home or when you be faced with a formal table setting at a function comprising of an array of cutlery and glasses which could leave you perplexed as to where to start.

This series of articles tells you everything you need to know about table settings including general advice on tableware,  informal and formal place settings, buffets, dining etiquette and  ideas as to how to lay and decorate your table at home on special occasions.


This page deals with the essentials needed for a well presented table.


Tablecloths and  Place Mats


The choice as to which you use will depend on the type of table you have and the type of meal you will be serving. If you have a beautiful table top of wood or glass, then you may prefer to show it off by using place mats rather than a full table cloth however  make sure the mats are thick enough to protect the table top from hot items.


If you decide to use a tablecloth, it should be large enough to overhang the top by at least 15cm/6 inches on all sides of the table.  Although white tablecloths are traditional for formal meals, plain-coloured or lace cloths can be used to great effect, especially if you have matching napkins. Patterned cloths are best kept for informal dining and even then, care should be taken when choosing to ensure the pattern isn't so fussy as to make the table look cluttered once it has been set with tableware.


For extra protection place mats can be used in conjunction with tablecloths, especially for the central part of the table where very hot serving dishes may be placed.


Napkins and Serviettes

When having a dinner party, cloth napkins are traditionally used. Choose napkins which match your table cloth or are a complimentary colour to your table cloth or decor.  Paper serviettes should preferably only be used for very informal dining although for larger buffet parties good quality paper serviettes are fine especially where the number of guests may make the use of cloth napkins expensive, not to mention the additional laundry  time.




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Flatware is just another name for cutlery.  There are many different types of knives, forks, spoons and specialist cutlery which is discussed more fully in Part II of this series.  For informal dining, it isn't always necessary to have matching cutlery however, if you are giving a dinner party, your various knives, forks and spoons should be of the same design with the exception specialist utensils if you are using them. The type of cutlery you use is discussed more fully on the formal and informal place setting pages.




As with cutlery, on special occasion or formal dinners, your glasses should preferably match each other with the exception of water, liqueur or Brandy glasses. The type of glasses you use is discussed more fully on the formal and informal place setting pages.




China or crockery encompasses items such as soup bowls, dinner plates, and side plates. As with cutlery and glasses,  on special occasion or formal dinners,  all your china should match. The only exceptions would be specialist serving dishes such as scallop shells, although even these are usually placed on a small plate. The type of china you use is discussed more fully on the formal and informal place setting pages.


Condiment Sets


Whilst it has become fashionable (and acceptable) to have salt and pepper grinders on the table, do avoid the very large ones on formal occasions. Small salt and pepper shakers are traditional. 


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