Let’s start out with saying, there is no wrong way to set a table. The only people who would think otherwise are those that follow the rules of etiquette set by “polite society,” otherwise known as people who consider themselves to be superior by setting a standard of behavior. So, take inspiration from the guide that has been created using the conventions and norms observed by the social class that created them, but by all means, do not confine yourself to their rules.

As you’re prepping for your next shindig, keep these questions in mind when figuring out your table setup:

  • How ow many courses are we talking?
  • What’s the vibe we’re going for?
  • And what’s everyone sipping on?

Let’s break it down:

Basic:

  • Dinner plate’s the star, right in front of each chair.
  • Napkin’s on the left (some folks pop it right on the plate).
  • Forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right (blade facing the plate!).
  • And water glasses up top on the right.

Casual:

So, we’re adding a little extra flair here:

 Okay, so it everything from the basic setting, plus a few extra elements:

  • Left to right: salad fork, dinner fork, then plate (with a salad plate stacked on top), and on the right, we’ve got the dinner knife, teaspoon, and soup spoon.
  • Top right’s where you’ll find the water and wine glasses.
  • Pop your bread plate and butter knife up top left.
  • And your dessert fork and spoon hover above your plate—the fork’s prongs facing the wine glass, and the spoon, the opposite direction.

Formal:

  • We’re talking white tablecloths for the fancy touch.
  • No regular plate here—say hello to the charger! It’s the pretty plate under your actual dinner plate, strictly for show.
  • The napkin is folded on top of the plate (bonus points if it’s a real cool fold).
  • Start from the left: salad fork, dinner fork, and if there’s fish, a fish fork.
  • On the right: dinner knife (blade in!), soup spoon, and maybe an oyster fork if we’re going all-out with shellfish.
  • Top right’s the glass lineup: water, wine (maybe both red and white), and champagne flute.
  • Pop the bread plate with its knife up top left. Note: in formal settings, everything has to be symmetrical, with candles, name cards, and flowers adding to the fancy vibe (and those flowers better not have any scent, or they’ll mess with the food’s flavor!).

Note: in formal settings everything is completely symmetrical, and the table would be dressed elegantly with candles, name cards, and flowers (but, of course the flowers have no sent because otherwise that would interfere with the taste of the food!)

Bonus: My go-to table decor tips:

  • Tablecloths are a must—pick one to match the vibe you’re after, whether it’s fun or fancy.
  • Candles dial up the cozy factor, but dimmed overhead lighting works too.
  • And don’t forget about centerpieces! Especially if you’re not piling all the food in the center.

I’ve seen some seriously inspiring setups lately:

I love the use of fruit and vertical arrangments. It looks like the ceterpeices were thrown together in the best way, and yet these scattered displays of fruits, candles, and flowers perfectly tie together the color scheme. 

Photos shot by @andreiaclarophoto. 

Drawing on the table is a great way to spice up a more basic dinner party set up! Forget the endless forks, knives, plates, and glasses — make the table and food your centerpeice. 

Photos shot by @elsa_works_

Oh, the drama! When in doubt, pick one thing and do a lot of it (but maybe avoid candles if you’ll be setting up in a small enclosed space).

Regardless of practicality, it’s a stunning and elegant table design that is sure to wow guests.

Photos shot by @charlottewisephotography.