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Formal Table Setting

Martha shares the basics of setting a formal table.

Q: What is the proper way to set a table? How long should the tablecloth be?

A: The drop should be 10 to 15 inches -- to hang around lap level -- for a formal table, and a little less for a more informal occasion, such as lunch. "This being said, if you have a beautiful hand-stitched tablecloth and its drop is shorter, you should feel free to use that piece, as long as it covers your view of the underside of the table," says Cathleen Hanson, director and cofounder of the International School of Protocol, in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

Be sure the drop is even and level on all sides and that it looks proportional to your table. As for flatware, place it in the order in which it will be used, from the outside in. Any spoons needed before dessert are placed to the right of the dinner plate or charger with the knife. Stemware is placed above the knife. The bread plate rests above the forks (if there's a salad plate, it's to the left of them). The napkin is usually folded into a rectangle and placed in the center of the dinner plate. See the photograph for more details.

Formal Table Setting

  1. The bread plate and the butter knife sit above the forks.
  2. Above the dinner plate are a dessert fork and dessert spoon.
  3. The stemware forms a triangle. The water glass sits above the knife, the white-wine glass is to its lower right, and the red-wine glass is above them.
  4. From the left, the forks are for the salad and main course.
  5. For a formal setting, the napkin is placed on the center plate or charger, but it can also be placed to the left of the plate under the forks or to the left of the forks.
  6. To the right of the plate, from the left, are the dinner knife and the soup spoon.

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