Steps for Setting Up a Proper Table

Setting the table properly is a preparation that we can do for our guests, even if we're not throwing a formal dinner party or special event. To set up a table perfectly, you need to know the steps.
Steps for Setting Up a Proper Table

Last update: 08 December, 2018

Have you ever wondered why in some restaurants or at parties and events, the glasses, plates, and silverware are all placed in a specific way? There are actually rules for setting up a proper table. In today’s post, we’ll explain how you can set your table up the right way, too.

Setting up a proper table: what you need to know

Each country has its own dining rules which define its culture and mannerisms. While the table rules might not be the same in Spain as they are in France or England, there are some general guidelines that are common.

The order in which the meal is served is the same in each country (appetizer, main dish, dessert, coffee, etc.) and waiters serve in a similar fashion as well. For example, they serve ladies first, seat the host at the head of the table, and always collect the dishes from the right-side.

Another dining rule requires everyone to wait to start their meal until everyone has been served.  And to enjoy dessert, all of the previous dishes should be removed, like wine glasses or soup dishes.

Table set up rules

There are different ways to set up a proper table. It also depends on the meal, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or a banquet. The most popular set-ups are:

  • English method: waiters serve on the diner’s left-side, using utensils to serve a tray of silverware to the diner.
  • French method: diners take their own silverware from a container, which comes prepared on the left.
  • Russian method: waiters pass through with a cart and serve diners in a theatrical manner.
  • Simple method: waiters set up the dishes, serving from the diner’s right-side.

Steps to properly set a table

You don’t have to throw a party for one-hundred guests to have a reason to set up a proper table. You could surprise your family and loved ones with a formal dinner for a special event, like a birthday or to share some good news.

To stick to table-set-up rules, first, put out the plates and glasses. After, lay the silverware and napkins. Follow these steps:

1. Lay the plates

Use the plates like a map to help you lay the other utensils. Try leaving around 60 centimeters between each diner to keep them from bumping elbows during the meal. You can use a big dish as a base with a smaller one on top, which you can replace with the actual dishes during the meal.

Table set up order


2. Set the glasses

Glasses and cups go on the left side of the plate and are always in a straight line, going from the biggest to the smallest. The first one is for water, and next to it is the wine glass. The white wine glass goes before the first one, and next to it, the champagne glass.

3. Lay the silverware

This might be the most difficult part of setting up a table because there are different kinds of silverware. Starting with the forks, place them on the left side of the plate. The one that’s closest to the dish is for meat, the center one is for fish, and the last one is for salad.

Table set up silver ware

On the right side of the plate, lay the knives: the first knife is for meat, the second for fish, and the third is for salad. After the knives, place the soup spoon. Above the bread plate, place a butter knife. And the dessert fork and spoon go in front of the bread plate.

4. Add the last details

The napkin – cloth napkin – goes on top of the plate. Some people, however, place it next to the forks or inside the water glass. Don’t forget to add the coffee cup, with its saucer, to the right of the glasses. You can also add salt and pepper shakers on top of the bread plate as well as a name tag on the dessert silverware.

With these steps, you can set up a proper table and enjoy a formal meal with your guests.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Domènech Virgili, M. (2013). El protocolo y las fiestas populares. Revista Internacional de Protocolo: Ceremonial, Etiqueta, Heráldica, Nobiliaria y Vexilogía.