The Ultimate Table Setting Guide : How to Set a Proper Table

Because the holidays are approaching, it’s time to gather with friends and family to share a meal together. This is the ultimate table setting guide, so that you can learn how to set a proper table, both casually and formally. In addition, I’m sharing how to set up a buffet style meal which is popular with large families and get togethers. But first, here are some tips for styling a centerpiece and place settings on your tables.

Centerpiece + Place Settings

Centerpiece Ideas

A centerpiece is the decoration in the center of the dining table. It’s all about the form! Typically, this includes a vase of seasonal flowers and tall candlesticks which create an inviting ambience for guests. However, I prefer to use unscented candles to allow the food to create the aroma in the room.

In addition, centerpieces during meal time should never block the sight of guests. So, while you may see extravagant centerpiece ideas on Pinterest, know those are not necessarily used when entertaining, but rather for inspiration or staging a home. Therefore, choose a shorter centerpiece while actually hosting a meal. When using real flowers, I have some tips to make your cut flowers last longer.

While you can display flowers in a shorter vase, it’s fun to get creative with centerpieces. For example, our Mexican cheese mold or sectioned dough bowl works beautifully on long dining tables. Simply fill with mini potted plants, pillar style candles or seasonal produce like mini pumpkins, pears or apples for Fall.

Place Setting Ideas

A place setting includes a combination of functional pieces that makes dining doable and enjoyable. For example, each one may include a placemat or charger, serving plates, glassware, flatware, and napkins. Depending on the occasion, place cards or favors may be included.

When layering each place setting, use a variety of different materials. Basically, glass or ceramic dishes, metal chargers or napkin rings, table linens, and a few natural elements like wood or wicker placemats create a variety of textures. If using a tablecloth, it’s not necessary to add fabric placemats, both protect the table.

Holiday Idea: Especially at the kids holiday table, I like to make each place setting feel special and keep guests entertained. For instance, cut Kraft paper to use as individual placemats and add a small bucket of crayons at each place setting for the Thanksgiving table. Similarly, for Christmas, place undecorated but assembled miniature ginger bread houses with a small bowl of candies and icing on each place setting.

Learn a few simple ways to fold or display your napkins, here.

How to Set a Proper Table

In our shop, From: Susie, we carry a beautiful set of white handmade stoneware dishes by ceramic artist Melissa Reddick, that’s perfect for everyday and formal dining.

How to Set a Table Casually

  1. Placemat or Plate Charger
  2. Dinner Plate + Salad Plate on Top (if serving)
  3. Fork to the Left of Plate + Salad Fork to the Left of Dinner Fork (if serving)
  4. Knife to the Right of Plate + Spoon to the Right of Knife
  5. Water Glass to Top Right Corner + Wine Glass to Right (if serving)
  6. Napkin on Plate or Under Forks

How to Set a Table Formally

  1. Table Cloth or Placemat
  2. Plate Charger at Each Setting
  3. Dinner Plate + Salad Plate on Top
  4. Bread Plate + Butter Knife Horizontally on Top to Top Left Corner of Dinner Plate
  5. Fork to the Left of Plate + Salad Fork to the Left of Dinner Fork
  6. Knife to the Right of Plate + Spoon to the Right of Knife
  7. Dessert Spoon or Dessert Fork Horizontally Above Dinner Plate
  8. Water Glass to Top Right Corner + Wine Glass to Right
  9. Napkin on Salad Plate
  10. Place Card Above Dessert Flatware

How to Set up a Buffet Style Meal

Consider the traffic flow of guests when setting up seating and serving areas. Of course, any of the serving stations can be combined on a long buffet table or large kitchen island. However, if you have room, separate seating from drinks and food so that guests aren’t crowded into one area. Therefore, guests getting drink refills won’t have to wait on others to sit down or fill their plate.

  • Drink Station – beverages, glassware, ice, straws, cups & saucers, condiments like cream & sugar
  • Food Station
    • plates at the beginning, flatware & napkins at the end or on the meal tables
    • use chafing dishes, food warmers, crock pots or ice accordingly
    • use multiple levels – cake stands, tiered trays, risers, raised serving boards
    • pair sauces or condiments next to the dish
    • label food with place cards or mini chalk boards
  • Appetizer Station – appetizer plates & napkins, charcuterie boards, finger foods, chips & dips
  • Dessert Station – dessert plates & napkins, cookies or cupcakes on tiered trays, sliced pies

In our shop, we have a beautiful selection of handmade risers, cake stands, and serving trays. These are perfect for displaying food for large gatherings or buffet style meals. The varying height will allow guests to see and reach everything easier. Therefore, include the tallest risers in the back of your table.

Clean Up Tip: For wood risers or trays, here’s a tip to make clean up a breeze. First, cut a sheet of parchment paper to the size and shape of the serving piece. Then, place food, like individual servings of desserts or appetizers, directly on top. When done, simply toss the paper. In addition, the paper prevents certain foods, like berries, from staining the wood.

Many of our wood serving pieces are hand made in Texas by local craftsmen. This includes our serving boards, risers and cake stands.

Looking for inspiration to style your Fall table, here’s a warm, natural Fall Tablescape. Lastly, be sure to save this on Pinterest and follow us on Instagram for more home decorating inspiration.


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