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Restaurant Table Settings

The style of table setting that you choose to use in your dining room or at your event sends a message to your guests, letting them know what type of service they can expect to receive. An empty table with no place setting is a clear indicator that the service will be casual. By simply adding a set of silverware or place mat, you can elevate the dining experience. Usually, the more items used in a table setting, the more formal the service.

Table settings are also useful for establishing the tone at wedding receptions, banquets, and events. Caterers and wedding coordinators can use different styles of wedding table settings to indicate whether the event is formal or casual. Setting a table for your guests shows attention to detail and an indication that you care about their needs. Read on if you’re interested in learning more about the different types of table settings.

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Types of Table Settings

The three most common types of table settings are formal, casual, and basic. Each place setting includes the utensils and dinnerware pieces that would normally be used with the corresponding style of dining. For instance, a formal table setting will provide more utensils because there are more courses. A basic table setting provides fewer utensils because there is only one course.

A general rule for silverware placement is that utensils are placed in order of use from the outside in. For example, the salad fork will be used before the dinner fork, so it should be placed on the outside. Another guideline to remember is that forks always go on the left, and knives and spoons are placed on the right. Only provide the flatware or glassware that will be used during the meal. If there is no wine being served, you can remove the wine glasses.

Make sure to choose the right tableware for your settings. Formal settings should be set with elegant, high-quality pieces while pracitical, economical tableware is more suited for basic settings. Use our virtual tabletop tool to select different dinnerware and flatware lines and preview what they look like paired together.

Table Setting Video

Use the following video to learn how to set a table in three different ways:

Formal Table Setting

This is the style of place setting you will see used at fine dining restaurants, formal events, and black tie weddings. Designed for a six course meal including an appetizer, soup, salad, a starch, a protein, and dessert, this setting employs more flatware and glassware than the other settings. Charger plates can also be used and should be placed beneath the serving plate.

Formal table setting

Follow these steps to create a formal dinner table setting:

  1. Begin by placing an ironed tablecloth on the table.
  2. A serving plate goes in the center of the place setting.
  3. A bread plate should be placed to the top left of the serving plate. Place a butter knife on top of the bread plate with the blade facing down, and the handle towards the right.
  4. Silverware on the left side of the serving plate begins with the salad fork on the outside, and the dinner fork on the inside.
  5. Silverware on the right side of the serving plate, from the inside out, will consist of a dinner knife, salad knife, soup spoon, and tea spoon.
  6. All flatware should be evenly spaced, and the bottoms should line up with the bottom of the serving plate.
  7. The dessert spoon should be placed directly above the serving plate, in horizontal alignment with the handle towards the right.
  8. Place a water glass above the dinner knife.
  9. Place the white wine glass below the water glass and slightly to the right.
  10. Place the red wine glass above the white wine glass and slightly to the right.
  11. A cup and saucer should be placed above the soup spoon and slightly to the right.

Casual Table Setting

Commonly used at banquets and luncheons, this setting is also referred to as an informal table setting. It's a popular choice for wedding table settings and contemporary casual restaurants that want to elevate their dining room decor. This setting is similar to a formal table setting, but is designed for three courses instead of six. The flatware provided will be enough for a soup or salad, main course, and dessert.

Casual table setting

Follow these steps to create a casual table setting:

  1. A serving plate should be placed in the middle of the table setting.
  2. A bread plate should be placed to the top left of the serving plate. Place a butter knife on top of the bread plate with the blade facing down, and the handle towards the right.
  3. Silverware on the left side of the serving plate begins with the salad fork on the outside, and the dinner fork on the inside.
  4. Silverware on the right side of the serving plate, from the inside out, will consist of a dinner knife, soup spoon, and tea spoon.
  5. Place a water glass above the dinner knife.
  6. Place the wine glass to the right of the water glass.

Basic Table Setting

This simple table setting is appropriate for all types of restaurants and casual events. You’ll commonly see it used in diners and family restaurants along with a placemat or a coffee cup. Using a basic table setting makes your guests feel welcome and ensures they have the utensils they need.

Formal table setting

Follow these steps to create a basic table setting:

  1. A serving plate should be placed in the middle of the table setting.
  2. A napkin is placed to the left of the plate.
  3. The fork rests on top of the napkin.
  4. A knife is placed to the right of the plate.
  5. A water glass or coffee cup is optional, placed above the knife and slightly to the right.

Do You Need to Follow Table Setting Rules?

There are some long-standing rules when it comes to table setting etiquette, especially for formal dinner table settings. Some fine dining restaurants prefer to keep with tradition by following these rules exactly. However, the world of dining has evolved to a place where we can forego traditional expectations for creative license. Our place setting diagrams provide the framework for setting a table properly, but it’s a normal practice for restaurants or caterers to adjust napkin placement or other aesthetic details.


Once you have an understanding of the traditional table setting, you can add your own personal touches. Many restaurants choose not to use place settings and place wrapped silverware at each seat instead. While this is convenient, it doesn't have the same visual effect as a beautifully set table. It's up to you to decide what type of experience you want to create for your guests.

Posted in: Facility Design & Decor | By Michale Ferguson
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