Corby Hall | Three Emery Avenue | Randolph, NJ 07869 | | 973.366.8300

The Fundamental Guide To Table Setting Etiquette

Table setting is a core feature of restaurants that can’t be neglected. The way you set the tables in your eatery will have a profound impact on the customer’s experience. It can be a reflection of your brand image and is often how many diners form a first impression.

Improper table setting etiquette can set your business off on the wrong foot by making you convey the wrong image. For example, your place setting may indicate that you’re offering a casual dining experience, when in fact you wish to offer a formal one. Diners who visit your establishment expecting a formal dinner will be put off by the casualness of the tables.

Consequently, you need to understand the right way to set tables at your restaurant. This guide will explain all, ensuring you know the proper place-setting etiquette for your business. We shall explain the different ways to set a table and where all the plates, flatware, glassware – and more – will go.

Choosing The Correct Table Setting For Your Establishment

There are three types of table settings you may consider for your establishment:

  • Basic
  • Casual
  • Formal

A basic table setting is reserved for more low-end diners and restaurants. It is composed solely of one set of utensils, a plate, and a glass. There will also be a napkin to go with it, but this is the most informal of all place settings. We don’t recommend setting your table like this unless your establishment is incredibly casual.

Ironically, the casual table setting is not as informal as it sounds. It’s a level below the formal one but has slightly fewer utensils. As a general rule, you should opt for this place setting if your establishment only serves three-course meals.

With formal table settings, you have more utensils, glassware, and flatware. It is the most prestigious of all table settings and conveys a sense of excellence and grandeur. This is a popular choice amongst five-star establishments offering fine dining or formal events. It is typically designed for a six-course meal.

Based on these options, you will be able to select one that represents your establishment the best. In most cases, it will be either a casual or formal place setting. Basic table-setting etiquette is so simple we won’t even cover it in this guide. You simply lay a table as you would for your dinner at home.

However, it’s important to understand the right plate-setting etiquette for more formal occasions and fine dining as this plays a big role in maintaining your brand image. The following sections will help you do exactly that:

table setting etiquette example

Formal Table Setting Etiquette

Before you begin setting a formal table, you need to ensure you’ve got everything you need.

There can be some slight differences in what’s on the table depending on your menu, but all formal place settings will require:

  • Flatware
  • Plates
  • Glassware
  • Napkins

When it comes to your flatware, you will need anywhere between nine and eleven pieces. Nine pieces will cover a normal six-course meal while eleven will include an extra knife and fork for a fish course.

To set your table, start from the bottom and put a place plate in the middle. When each course is brought out, it will be put on this plate. You should also put a neatly folded napkin on top of this plate. If you’re setting a table for a formal event with place cards, they should be put on the napkin.

From here, start laying the cutlery around the plate from inside to out. The innermost pieces will be the last ones used during the main meal. As such, the outermost pieces of flatware will be what’s used first. In most cases, this will be a soup spoon on the right and an entree fork on the left.

The crucial piece of table-setting etiquette to remember is that all pieces should align with your menu. Diners will take each piece of cutlery and work their way inwards.

That settles the bottom part of the table setting, now you should move to the top. Set it from left to right with the following items:

  • Top Left Corner: A bread plate with a small bread knife laid across it
  • Top Middle: The dessert spoon and dessert fork are laid horizontally in opposite directions. The handle of the spoon points to the right while the fork handle points to the left
  • Top Right Corner: This is your glassware corner where all the glasses will be placed. It will also be a little quadrant of its own, looking like this:
      • Top left: Water glass
      • Top right: Red wine glass
      • Bottom right: White wine glass
      • Bottom left: Champagne flute
      • You may also add a coffee cup and saucer as an option to the side of this quadrant

If you follow this guidance, you’ll set a formal table that represents fine dining and can add to the allure of your wonderful establishment. The good news is that setting a casual table is not as complex as this.

Casual Table Setting Etiquette

You will follow similar principles, only there will be an absence of some pieces of flatware and glassware here.

Again, start with the bottom part. You have the option to use a serving plate here, or to leave the place bare – it is entirely up to you. Then, set the knives, forks, and spoons according to your menu. With a casual place setting, you typically only serve three courses. As such, you will need a salad fork, soup spoon, dinner fork, and dinner knife. You may also place a dessert fork/spoon above where the plate will go – though this is optional.

The top side of the place setting will be slightly less cluttered than a formal one. You have the bread plate and knife in the top left corner again, followed by the glasses on the right. Here, you will typically only have a water glass and a wine glass – put the water glass to the left of your wine glass.

Set The Perfect Tables With High-Quality Dinnerware

You’ve learned table-setting etiquette, but this is all ineffective if you don’t have the right dinnerware for your establishment. You need plates, glasses, and cutlery that represent your brand and make a stunning first impression. When paired with a good place setting, you’ll wow guests and get them coming back for more.

If you’re eager to find the best restaurant flatware or dinnerware, contact the specialists at Corby Hall today. We’re a premium provider of dinnerware in the US and have had numerous prestigious clients in the past. We’ll help you find the ideal solutions for your establishment.

Scroll to Top