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Setting the Table 101

The Martha Stewart Show

The way a table is set contributes to the ambiance of a meal as much as the food and wine. A few simple guidelines will help you establish the tone you want.


Each place should be set with all the glasses that will be used during dinner (except dessert-wine glasses, which may be brought out when the dessert is served). The water glass belongs to the right of the plate, just above the knife. Wineglasses should be set to the right of the water glasses in the order in which they will be used.


The only pieces of china that should be part of a table setting are the bread plate and a charger, if desired. A charger (or service plate) is a purely decorative oversize plate used to add texture, color, or pattern to the table. Chargers may be made of china, pewter, brass -- even straw or papier-mache. Food is never served directly on a charger, but a first-course soup bowl or salad plate can be set on top of it. The charger should be cleared along with the bowl or plate.


A proper silverware setting follows one simple rule, no matter how formal or relaxed the event: Set the silverware on the table in the order it will be used, from the outside in. The fork for the first course is the one farthest to the left; to the right of the plate, the knife for the first course is the farthest to the right. Any spoons needed before dessert (say, a soupspoon), should be placed to the right of the knives. Dessert utensils should always be placed horizontally above the plate, or they can be brought in later, with the dessert course.

Glossary of Tableware
1. Water glass
2. Red-wine glass
3. White-wine glass
4. Champagne flute
5. All-purpose glass

[See image 2 above.]

1. Dinner plate
2. Salad plate
3. Cup
4. Saucer
5. Bread-and-butter plate
6. Charger
7. Dessert plate
8. Soup bowl

[See image 3 above.]

1. Salad fork
2. Dinner fork
3. Dinner knife
4. Soupspoon
5. Teaspoon
6. Butter knife
7. Fish fork
8. Fish knife
9. Dessert fork

[See image 4 above.]

Formal Table Setting

Although a harmonious table maintains a uniform level of formality, creating a mix-and-match table from your collections of china, glassware, and silverware is appropriate on many occasions -- and has the benefit of providing you with a unique table setting for each event. Just keep in mind that something should tie the elements together: If you combine dishes and flatware from different periods and styles, make sure that they share similar proportion or complementary lines. [See image 5 above.]

Dessert Table Setting

When dessert is served, all wineglasses (except dessert-wine glasses), bread plates, and salt and pepper shakers should be cleared from the table. Dessert flatware can either be set above the dinner plate or charger at the initial table setting, or it can be carried in on a tray at dessert time, along with coffee cups and saucers. Water glasses remain on the table for the duration of the meal. [See image 6 above.]

Comments (15)

  • Shopgrl 2 Nov, 2013

    How big of a table should I have for a formal sit down dinner party for 14 guests?

  • Seasoned Server Synthia 29 Apr, 2013

    Would you EVER put the fork on right beside the dinner plate instead of the knife ? Like fork, knife then teaspoon ? I keep seeing this in restaurants these days! Why?

  • Seasoned Server Synthia 24 Apr, 2013

    I have served 36 years in our own 103 Year Old Typical Greek Style Family Restaurant . We set the table ( Sorry) with the napkin on the right ,since we do not have table cloths or placemats we do however put the silverware on top of the napkin for sanitary purposes only. Knife beside plate blade facing plate, then fork,then spoon. Although in-correct I know the knife should be where we put it. Other restaurants put the fork right of plate, then knife ,then spoon . Which is best ?

  • Chappi 14 Dec, 2010

    I personally hate when napkins are placed under the forks. You have to move your silverware to get to it. Left of forks, please.

  • Jeanne1955 19 Aug, 2009

    It looks like a fish fork to me but they do look alot like salad forks.

  • JessePiester 19 Aug, 2009

    Wine glass for wine.

    Please not for napkin.

  • Lemonferret 19 Aug, 2009

    GulfGirl and Superme: I think you've caught Martha's mistakes. Shall we Report as Inappropriate? Ha! <g>

  • GulfGirl 19 Aug, 2009

    Why does the illustration of the more formal setting on page 3 show what appears to be a salad fork next to the plate ? Inside of the other two forks?

  • abbdel 20 Feb, 2009

    The napkin is never to the right (by knife and spoon). It should be to the left of the forks or may be under them. Informally may be on the plate or in a water glass. Just google napkin placement and more informaiton on this topic for you.

  • superme 26 Nov, 2008

    Just one observation. The dessert spoon goes above the dessert fork, both of which go above the plates in a formal dinner setting. I expect, since Martha was working upside down so to speak, she made an error and put the fork above the spoon.

  • DeborahDL 26 Nov, 2008

    I have a question about the charger plate. Do you leave the charger plate on the table and place the dinner plate on top of the charger plate while your guests are dining or do you remove the charger plate and serve your guests the various dinner courses without removing the charger plate that is on the table?

  • twigg1974 25 Nov, 2008

    Martha said that the napkin can go any where but does the napkin ever go next to the spoons? My neice and I don't agree on this - I say it should go on the left next to the forks. Who's right?

  • DeborahJR 24 Nov, 2008

    Maybe things have changed over 30 years, but I worked one summer as a server in a very formal Swiss hotel. The soup spoon always went horizontal to the dinner plate on top - where the dessert fork is. It never went to the right, although my mother does it on the right. Oh well, whatever.

  • idahov 19 Nov, 2008

    This was so helpful. I applied as a server for a catering company yesterday and bluffed my way through a diagram of where to set everything. I didn't know what a charger was, but now I do and then some.

  • Goldlife 9 Nov, 2008

    thank you very helpful