How to Set a Table

The Rules, Straight from the Source

Basic Place Setting

It’s a dirty little secret for many of us. Thanksgiving morning—roast-turkey scent wafting throughout the ground-floor, guests wheels up and on the way—we’re bothered by a nagging uncertainty – the voice in our heads murmering,

Where exactly does the salad fork go?

Mom or Grandma may have clued you in years ago, but the details—mixed with that early glass of merlot—are foggy now. Or maybe Mom’s favorite thing to make was reservations, and table setting wasn’t an inherited skill.

Even this New-England-reared Girl Scout breaks into a sweat when it comes to the ‘extras’.

Dessert spoon, bread plate…where do I cram all of this in?

How to Set the Table for Thanksgiving Dinner

So, let’s learn the rules once and for all, eh?

To do so, I went straight to the source—Emily Post—or rather, her people. The Emily Post Institute maintains and evolves the standards of etiquette that Emily established with her seminal book Etiquette in 1922. The Institute graciously loaned us its drawings.

Formal Place Setting

Formal Place Setting

(a) Charger (Dinner and
other plates will top this)
(b) Butter Plate
(c) Dinner Fork
(d) Fish Fork
(e) Salad Fork
(f) Dinner Knife
(g) Fish Knife
(i) Soup Spoon or Fruit Spoon
(j) Shellfish Fork
(k) Butter Knife
(la) Water goblet
(lc) Red wine glass
(ld) White wine glass
(le) Sherry glass
(m) Napkin

Informal Place Setting

Informal Place Setting

(a) Dinner Plate (goes under napkin)
(b) Salad Fork (left) & Dinner Fork
(c) Napkin
(d) Dinnner Knife
(e) Dessert Spoon or Teaspoon (middle),
Soup Spoon (right)
(f) Glasses
(g) Salad Plate
(h) Bread Plate with Butter Knife
(j) Coffee Cup & Saucer

Basic Place Setting

And for everyday, the Basic Place Setting drawing is shown at the top of this story. Have the kids pitch in and setting the family dinner table can be their job. This fun pad of 50 placemats with a printed basic table setting is also perfect for teaching the kids — it’s available for $20 right here at my OpenSky shop.

How to Set the Table Placemats

Now I know many of you are muttering to yourselves,

Who cares about ‘rules’ for how to set a table?

I hear you.

Thing is, it’s good to know the rules before you break them.

When I read Emily Post’s posts (Ha!) on setting these tables, I found a common-sense reason behind the placement of many of the items. And it all centered around making things easy and enjoyable for your guests. Now who’s not for that?

Enjoy her lessons, and a couple good tricks for remembering what goes where:

  • Formal Place Setting
  • Informal Place Setting
  • Basic Place Setting
  • Of course, we are all about creativity here at — so join us Tuesday when our kitchen design expert, Susan shares some fantastic, colorful and creative tablescapes. Rampant rule breaking and all.

    Still trying to figure out how you’ll fit all those guests at your holiday table? Be sure to read GraceAnn’s story: How to Arrange a Dining Room for Holiday Guests, here.

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3 Comments for “How to Set a Table”

[…] we learned the basics of How to Set a Table. Today its right brain time, when our Kitchen Design Expert and Contributor, Susan Serra, CKD […]

Wow! Now all I need to do is clean off my table! I wish there was a diagram for that! I have lovely dishes that were my mother’s..your great article has inspired me to USE them this year! THANKS! Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks Mari and Casey!

I’m smitten with the lush color in these tablescapes, and the freedom the designers used in selecting their materials. What fun a dinner here must have been!

Casey — so glad you are using Mom’s dishes — she will be with you in spirit.


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