Setting the Perfect Table

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.]


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