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How To Lay The Table For A Formal Dinner Party Or Special Occasion


If you are planning a dinner party at home or have an event where you are hiring crockery or using disposable paper tableware you will want to make sure that your tables are correctly set out and laid.

The base for the table is the tablecloth. This may be a linen tablecloth, paper tablecloth or banquet roll. Make sure that the cloth is as creasefree as possible. If necessary iron the tablecloth on a low heat while it is in place on the table although take care if the tabletop isn't wooden in case you cause any damage. Now that you have a base you need to place the cutlery and glasses on the table.

The traditional way to lay a table is simple. You will require all the cutlery needed for each course and the trick is to remember that, with the exception of the dessert cutlery and side plate knife, all the other cutlery is placed next to where the dinner plate is placed i.e. either side of the space in the centre of the place setting . So whether you are having one course before dessert or four all the cutlery is in the same place on the table. The cutlery is placed in order of use with forks on the left and other cutlery on the right with the cutlery to be used first on the outer side.

For example, if the first course is soup, then there is a fish course and then a main course the cutlery will be a soup spoon on the far right, a fish knife next to this and the main course knife next to this, on the inside. On the left side will be the fish fork and then the main course fork on the inside left.

The dessert cutlery should be appropriate to the dessert and so may be a simple spoon and fork or a teas spoon. These are placed horizontally at the top of the place setting.

Food is usually delivered in the appropriate bowl or plate although you may wish to serve the food onto a plate at each table setting so that guests can choose how much and what they have. This is sometimes known as silver service.

The side plate should be placed to the left of the central area with a small knife and the cutlery and the glasses should be to the right a few inches away from the tip of the main course knife. Place enough glasses for the types of drinks to be served and these are usually a wine glass and a water glass. You can of course include different glasses for red and white wine and if you are having champagne then include a champagne glass.

The napkin can be placed where you feel it is most appropriate – on the side plate, rolled into a napkin holder to the right of the place setting or in a glass. Some people like to fold the napkins and create a pretty effect and then place them in the centre of the place setting – the choice is yours.

A place card should be used for most formal dinners and this is placed above the dessert spoon and fork or a glass place card is placed on one of the wine glasses. If you are having champagne use this glass for the glass place card as it is used last.

Any condiments such as pepper and sal should be placed in the centre of the table.

Make sure that each guest has sufficient space to sit and eat comfortably and enjoy your meal.

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