How to Set a Table — The Complete Guide

DEC 05|5 min read

Having a dinner party with your friends and family? Learn how to properly set a dinner table based on your occasion.

As an everyday task, setting a table is something you may not put much thought into. However, when it comes to hosting a dinner party, or even setting a weeknight dinner table, it never hurts to learn some basic table setting. There are various ways to style and set your dinner table, (there’s more to it than knowing the difference between napkins and tea towels!), and your place settings will change based on your event, guests, type of cuisine, and location.

You may have heard of ‘starting from the outside and working your way in’ as a tip for understanding cutlery - but what does that really mean? In our guide, we’ve outlined how to set a table properly for every occasion with easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions.

Whether it be a more formal affair, like dinner with the in-laws, or an everyday after-school kids' meal, we’ve got you covered in our guide below.

Is there a proper way to set a table?

Yes, there are a few basic etiquette rules and steps to follow when setting a table for dinner. For example, the fork to the left, the dinner plate in the centre and the knife to the right. However, it’s ultimately up to you to decide how to set your table for dinner. What works for one person may work differently for another! Feel free to experiment with different types of cutlery, servingware and decorations to create a table that suits your style.

We’ve provided easy-to-follow instructions below for how to set a table correctly according to your type of event.



What utensils are needed to set a table?

For most table settings, you’ll need a tablecloth or placemats, dinner plates, knives, forks, spoons, and water glasses. For more formal events, extra serving utensils and cutlery like napkin rings, side plates, dessert spoons, and red and white wine glasses are typically added.

From drinkware and placemats to plates and tea towels, you’ll find everything you need for setting your table to fit any occasion in our kitchen dining range.




What type of event are you setting the table for?

Your dining table set-up will mostly depend on your guests and the type of food you’ll be eating. For example, if serving Japanese cuisine, chopsticks are essential! However, if you’re planning to eat tacos and quesadillas, cutlery isn’t as important for setting the table – your hands work just as well in this case (although, be sure to set aside plenty of napkins!)

With so many various table settings for dinner, there’s a good chance you may be overwhelmed! We’ve provided step-by-step guides below so you can rest assured you know exactly how to set the table for every type of dinner event.


How To Set a Table For Everyday Dinner

Your everyday table setting ought to be quick and easy to set up and clean up, so you can get onto the rest of your night with ease. We recommend investing in a matching servingware set that’s long-lasting and can withstand daily wear and tear – remember simple is better!

  1. Start preparing your dinner table by setting placemats, we like darker coloured and solid placemats for everyday use – easy to clean and reuse again and again.

  2. Put the dinner plate in the centre of each placemat.

  3. Set the napkin to the left of the plate, placing the fork on top.

  4. Place the knife to the right of the plate – if serving cooked steak or chicken, you may want to add or replace with a steak knife.

  5. A spoon can be placed to the right of the knife, if serving soup.

  6. Set down a water glass for each diner in between the plate and fork – a coaster may be useful to protect your table from water rings and everyday wear and tear.



How To Set a Table For Your Kids Dinner

Dinnertime with small children can usually be a recipe for mess, but it doesn't have to be that way. You don’t have to be rigid with the rules around table setting for dinner when children get involved. In the end it comes down to whatever works best for you and your child.

Don’t dread meal time, we’re here to help! We can’t guarantee that there’ll be no mess involved, but to keep a (relatively) clean table setting, we like to have wipes and tea towels handy and use as much easy-to-clean cutlery and servingware as possible – we recommend silicone or plastic utensils for quick and easy cleaning.

  1. Begin your table setting with placemats, we recommend using a durable placemat rather than cloth for easy cleaning. You can also place a tea towel on top of the placemat for extra protection.

  2. Set your child’s dinner plate in the centre of the placemat/tea towel, make sure it’s not too far away from their seat to prevent spillage.

  3. Place a napkin, wipe or tea towel within arm's reach for quickly cleaning up spills and messes.

  4. Set the fork to the right of the plate, and the knife to the left if needed.

  5. Place the spoon to the right of the knife.

  6. Position their cup or bottle in between the plate and knife/spoon.

How To Set a Table For a Casual Dinner

Inviting friends or family over for Saturday night dinner? Consider entertaining outdoors and hosting a BBQ! With warmer nights on the horizon, keep your food protected from the elements (and critters) by using a food cover. Add a cheese platter or salad bowl to your dinner table setting to level up your servingware with bright, fun colours – perfect for that sunset picnic vibe! String up fairy lights and add some decorative candles and flowers to the table for a summer night feel.

Opt for a table runner rather than a tablecloth for a more casual look, and pair matching cutlery, tableware and napkins to keep a styled theme.

  1. Lay out your table runner in the centre of the table.

  2. Set placemats for each diner.

  3. Position the dinner plate in the centre of the placemat, set the salad plate on top, followed by the soup bowl.

  4. Place the napkin to the left of the dinner plate, placing the fork on top.

  5. Set the knife to the right of the plate, with the spoon next to it.

  6. Put the water glass in between the dinner plate and knife, with the wine glass to the right.


How To Set a Table For a Formal Dinner

Although you may not host formal events regularly, it’s always useful to know how to set the table properly for an upscale event. Whether it’s a wedding, function or high tea, most formal table settings will require the use of extra plates, knives, forks and wine glasses – so be sure to stock up before your event.

Take creative liberty with your table setting by decorating according to theme, texture or style. For example, use matching textured platters, trays and bowls with pops of colour that complement your tablecloth. Accessorise with wine glass tags, coloured napkins and drinkware to refine your table theme.

  1. Lay out an ironed tablecloth, make sure it hangs evenly on all sides.

  2. Set out a charger plate or placemat at each seat.

  3. If opting for a more traditional dinner, you may like to start with setting the soup bowl and swap dishes in between each course. Otherwise, you can stack your dinner plate, salad plate and soup bowl.

  4. Place the dinner fork directly to the left of the placemat, with the salad fork to the left of that.

  5. Set the napkin to the left of the salad fork. Use napkin rings to accessorise and add a touch of colour to your table.

  6. Position the bread plate in the top left corner between the placemat and the fork, with the butter knife placed horizontally on top.

  7. If serving cooked meat or chicken, place the steak knife to the right of the placemat, with the dinner knife to the right of that. Otherwise, only one knife is needed.

  8. Put the soup spoon to the right of the dinner knife.

  9. Set the dessert spoon horizontally above the placemat.

  10. If using place cards, set above the dessert spoon with names on both sides so guests are aware of who they are sitting with.

  11. Place the water glass to the right of the dessert spoon, above the dinner knife. Make sure this glass is closest to the diner as water is drunk more often than wine.

  12. Lastly, position the red wine glass to the right of the water glass, and the white wine glass below that, creating a triangle-like arrangement of glasses.




From fancy summer night soirees to entertaining for kids, you can now take the guesswork out of how to set a table for dinner - no matter the occasion. So, the next time your family and friends ask, “Who’s hosting?”, you can happily oblige! Impress your guests at your next event with all the know-how for a stunning table setting. Bon appétit!

Discover more on Summer Entertaining:


NOV 16|5 min read

How to Prepare your Home for Holiday Guests

Read more


DEC 04|5 min read

Your Complete Guide to Summer

Read more