Ideas & Inspiration

How to Set a Formal Table

Everything You Need to Set a Formal Table
An overhead look at a formal Christmas setting.

In order to efficiently make a formal table setting, here are the tools you’ll need to create each type of setting:


  • Linens, such as a tablecloth & napkins (paper napkins okay as well)
  • Napkin rings
  • Glassware (red or white wine glasses, water glasses, champagne flutes)
  • Silverware (dinner, salad or dessert forks; soup or dessert spoons; dinner knives)
  • Specialty silverware (butter knives, etc.)
  • Plates (dinner, salad, bread or dessert)
  • Specialty dinnerware (teacups, saucers, etc.)
  • Chargers 
  • Soup or salad bowls 
  • Place mats (optional)


Tip: You can be as formal or informal as you want, swapping out chargers for dinner plates, using place mats instead of tablecloths, or even opting for stemless over stemmed glassware.

Basic Formal Table Setup
Things needed for a formal table setting.

Although formally setting the table may seem daunting, what with the many pieces and rules to follow, once you’ve learned the basics, it gets easier as you go. Soon, you’ll be ready to entertain in style.


What you’ll need at each place setting:

  • Charger
  • Napkin and napkin ring 
  • Bread plate
  • Butter knife
  • Water glass
  • White wine glass
  • Red wine glass
  • Dinner fork
  • Salad fork
  • Dinner knife
  • Soup spoon
  • Dessert spoon
  • Dessert fork


Refer to the above image to further help you build your basic table setting. First, place down the charger. Next, insert the napkin into the napkin ring and lay flat on the charger. Place your dinner and salad forks on the left side of the charger, making sure the dinner fork is closest to the charger, with the knife and spoon on the right side of the charger. The knife should be closest to the charger, with the blade facing inward toward the plate. Above the charger, add the dessert fork, then above that, the dessert spoon. Lay down the bread plate to the left, diagonally, of the charger, directly above the dinner and salad forks and to the left of the dessert spoon and fork. Place the butter knife atop the bread plate. Finally, grab your water glass, red wine glass and white wine glass and place them down so they’re to the right, diagonally, of the charger, but above the dinner knife and dinner spoon, and to the right of the dessert spoon and fork. Once everything has been placed, and matches what’s shown in the image, you’ve completed a basic formal table setting. 


Tip: If you are only serving white wine, you can forgo the red wine glass.

Setting the Table for Soup
Formal table setting for eating soup.

For eating soup, you will mimic the format of the table setting shown in section 2. But now, you’ll add a soup bowl to the mix, and set it on top of the charger. All other pieces of the setting remain the same as in the basic step. 


What you’ll need at each place setting:

  • Charger 
  • Soup bowl
  • Napkin
  • Bread plate
  • Butter knife
  • Water glass
  • White wine glass
  • Red wine glass
  • Dinner fork
  • Salad fork
  • Dinner knife
  • Soup spoon
  • Dessert spoon
  • Dessert fork


Remember to use your soup spoon when eating soup, and not your dessert spoon. It’s little rules like this that truly make a formal table setting. Once you’ve used your soup spoon to finish your soup, lay your soup spoon down on the upper righthand corner of the charger to indicate you’ve finished your meal. If the soup is being served on a plate, instead place the soup spoon in the bowl once you’re done with your meal. This will tell the server that you’re done, and they will remove your bowl and soup spoon. If you are your own server, you can remove the bowl and spoon from your charger.


Tip: If you are not serving soup, a salad can be served in its place.

Setting the Table for the Main Course
Formal table setting for your main course.

Now that the soup has been cleared from your setting, you should still have most of your original setting in place, minus the soup spoon. At this point, a plate will be brought out (or retrieved from the kitchen) and placed on top of the charger to begin the main meal. Eat the main course using the dinner fork and knife. 


What you’ll need at each place setting:

  • Charger 
  • Dinner plate
  • Napkin and napkin ring 
  • Bread plate
  • Butter knife
  • Water glass
  • White wine glass
  • Red wine glass
  • Dinner fork
  • Salad fork
  • Dinner knife
  • Dessert spoon
  • Dessert fork


Tip: As you eat, don’t forget to sip your drinks and eat some bread.

Setting the Table for Salad
Formal table setting for salad.

You will again follow the setting format shown in section 2, but now minus the soup spoon, dinner fork and dinner knife. The main difference in setting this time will be what’s in the center of the charger. You will place your salad plate in the center of the charger and use the salad fork to the left of your charger to eat it. Once the salad is complete, the salad plate, salad fork, bread plate, butter knife and both wine glasses should be removed. Now, you’re ready for dessert.


What you’ll need at each place setting:

  • Charger 
  • Salad plate
  • Napkin and napkin ring 
  • Bread plate
  • Butter knife
  • Water glass
  • White wine glass
  • Red wine glass
  • Salad fork
  • Dessert spoon
  • Dessert fork


Tip: Keep a pepper mill nearby in case guests prefer freshly ground pepper on their foods.

Setting the Table for Dessert
Formal table setting for dessert.

Now, your setting has dwindled somewhat. But now you’re ready for dessert! At this point, you’ll need to bring out a dessert plate, teacup and tea saucer. The dessert plate goes directly on the charger, while the saucer and teacup are laid down to your right, far enough away from your moving arms. In typical formal settings, the dessert is oftentimes accompanied by some tea. However, some like to have dessert wine instead, so the drink choice is up to you.


What you’ll need at each place setting:

  • Charger 
  • Dessert plate
  • Napkin and napkin ring 
  • Teacup and saucer
  • Water glass
  • Dessert spoon
  • Dessert fork


Depending on the dessert, use either the dessert spoon or the dessert fork to eat the final meal. Or both. Since this is the last course of the evening, dessert can be eaten leisurely, intermingling bites with conversation or even sips of tea, water or wine.


Tip: Dessert wines like port and sherry are served in smaller, compact glasses so they are easier to sip.

Wow family and friends alike when you invite them over for a meal and dazzle them with your newfound table setting knowledge. Have a fun night in with guests by having a formal dinner party and tasty meal.  If you're looking for the items needed to create a formal table set up, The Home Depot delivers online orders when and where you need them.