How To Set
A Formal Dinner Table
A few steps toward a fine dining experience, right at home.

This story was originally published on GQ as part of our series, “Homework with TRNK”.

 

So, you just cooked an amazing meal worthy of a visit from Anthony Bourdain (or maybe you ordered comparably delicious takeout). Either way, nothing ruins potentially great food like slopping it all onto a single plate. A good meal is as much about presentation as it is about a good palate. With that in mind, we’ve put together everything you need to set a proper table, to help you have a fine dining experience right at home.



 How to Properly Set a Table | TRNK



1. The Placemat or Charger

The first layer of a proper setting is either a placemat or a charger. If you’re scratching your head over the latter, a charger is a plate just for show – one that food will never touch. Formal settings will sometimes have both, but we recommend choosing one or the other–save on cost, cleanup, and clutter.



2. Plates and Bowls

It’s customary to set the stage for the entire meal before guests ever take their seats. This means that the dinner plate stays on the table through most of the meal, nested beneath the soup bowl or salad plate (whichever you’re serving for the first course). A good sized dinner plate should be 10-12” in diameter, depending on your appetite. Salad plates are available in many sizes, but we’d recommend going with one at least 7” in diameter.

The most important thing to remember is that your dinnerware doesn’t have to match. We’re into the idea of mixing up the colors and materials so that there’s a strong contrast between each layer. It’s also okay if there’s variety among the individual place settings. Obey the rules of function, but have some fun when it comes to form.



Danish Black Fluted Dinnerware, $45-$125



3. Forks

Your forks belong just the left of the plates. As a general rule of thumb, always arrange silverware to work inward as the meal progresses. If dinner starts with leafy greens, place the salad fork to the outer left, with the dinner fork closest to the plate. If salad is an end-of-dinner palate cleanser, the order is reversed. If there’s no salad on the menu, leave the extra fork in the drawer – only include what you plan to use.




4. The Napkin

Traditionally, you have one of two choices with napkins—either neatly folded to the left of your forks, or placed directly atop your stack of plates (feel free to put a ring on it).





5. The Bread Plate & Butter Knife

Stack your bread plate and butter knives directly north of the forks. The dining table can easily start to feel crowded, so be sure that the bread plate is small enough to fit comfortably, 4-6” in diameter is usually a safe bet (also the perfect size for appetizer plates during cocktail hour). Place the butter knife atop the plate, blade facing in, and leave both at the table until it’s time for dessert.





6. The Knife and Spoon

The knives and spoons belong on the right. The knife should be closest to the plate, blade facing in. The spoon goes on the outside, presuming you’re dishing up soup as the first course.



7. Glassware

Above your knife and fork is where you’ll place your glassware. The water glass should be innermost (as it’s presumably used the most), with the wine glass directly to its right. If you’re serving both red and white, place the former top and center, so that the three glasses form a triangle.



8. Dessert Utensils

If you’re ending your meal with something sweet, the dessert utensils are traditionally set from the very beginning of the meal. They’re placed directly above your dinner plate, fork closest to the plate, pointed to the right. The spoon goes parallel, but facing the opposite direction.

When it’s time for dessert, everything gets cleared except for these two utensils and the water glass. This makes room for a dessert plate, and coffee or tea. The dessert plate (another use for those small, bread or appetizer plates), takes the place of your dinner plate, with coffee set to the right (in theory, it’s supposed to take the place of the wine glass, but some rules need not apply).



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