How to Set a Formal Holiday Table

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Hosting a formal holiday dinner with multiple courses?


Follow these place-setting rules from the pros:

  1. Always work from the outside in. The fork on the extreme outside is the one used for the first course. The same applies to glassware and cutlery.
  2. Forks should be placed to the left side of dishes, while knives should be placed to the right. If you’re serving soup, the spoon should be placed to the far right of the knives.
  3. Arrange dessert silverware above each place setting. Fork prongs should face to the right. The dessert spoon should face to the left.
  4. Place napkins on the far left, unless a decorative napkin fold is used. (The latter may be placed anywhere on the table.)
  5. If you’re serving bread and butter, place a separate plate and butter knife at the top left of the setting.
  6. Stack plates according to service. The main-course plate will be at the bottom. Salad plates, appetizer plates and soup bowls should be stacked accordingly atop it.
  7. Glasses are placed on the right side of the table setting. The water glass generally has the largest rim and should be the leftmost glass, with the white-wine and red-wine glasses alongside it.

The diagram at the top of this article offers visual assistance. Decode the place setting with the following key: 

A = Soup bowl
B = Appetizer or salad plate
C = Service plate
D = Water glass
E = White wine glass
F = Red wine glass
G = Napkin
H = Fish fork
I = Dinner fork
J = Salad fork
K = Service knife
L = Fish knife
M = Soup spoon
N = Bread and butter service
O = Dessert spoon
P = Dessert fork

Photo: Tyler Love

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