Formal Table Setting



Fewer elements can bring an immediate elegance to any meal like a formal table setting. Put all the pieces in just the right place, light the candles, and let the rest take care of itself. . .

. . . keeping in mind that first impressions are everything!

One company rule that I've had the pleasure of being embedded into my mind is the 90/90/90 rule. "What is that?" you say. Its actually a fairly simple marketing memory device that basically sums up this rule:

90 percent of all people will draw a conclusion or make a decision within the first 90 seconds of all situations, 90 percent of the time.

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Again, like I said, "First impressions are everything".

I say this, hopefully not with any sense of alarm, but merely to inform you of the great opportunity for your guests to absolutely love your food. . .

. . . before they've tasted, seen, or smelled it. Its a delicate balance between great food and beautiful presentation, as dining is such a sensory experience.

To get your dinner table to where we need it to be, there are a few items that we'll need on hand for a truly formal table setting. They are:


  • A neutral toned table cloth- I use ivory as a standard

  • Cloth dinner napkins- Starched and pressed are preferred for better folding. I like white, but use what works with your ‘motif’.

  • A wine glass- Did you know that there are different shaped glasses based on what type of wine you’ll be drinking?

  • A water glass- I like to use a goblet, which is like a wine glass with a stem, but shorter and squattier.

  • A charger plate- This is an optional large, usually colorful plate that serves as a coaster for the soup, salad, and sometimes dinner plate.

  • A B&B plate (Bread and Butter)- Its nice to have this little side plate, usually about 6-7 inches in diameter, for. . . you guessed it, bread and butter, and for things like shrimp tails, unwanted vegetables, etc.

  • A coffee mug and saucer- The mug should always be presented upside-down, with the handle facing 4 o’clock according to the person seated.

Ok, now the silverware. It may seem a little confusing what silverware to offer, but it is actually relatively easy if you just follow these two simple formal table setting rules:

  1. You need a piece of silverware for every course presented (you are serving multiple courses, right?). For example: a soup spoon for a soup course, salad fork for salad, a fork and large spoon for pasta course (the spoon is for spinning the fork against <:)), a tea spoon if coffee or tea is offered, etc.

  2. While dining, one works their way from the outside of the silverware to the innermost. For example, in the diagram below, you see that the salad fork is on the outside of the dinner fork. This is because the salad course comes before the entrée. So, if you're meal has oysters rockefeller as a second course, before the steak entrée and after the shrimp cocktail, that cute little seafood fork will go inbetween the appetizer fork and dinner fork.

    Also the tea spoon is the furthest out (even if soup comes before coffee) because it is closer to the coffee cup. That one is kind of an exception to the rules of formal table setting.

    Starting to get the picture?

    Lastly, a final note on napkin folds. There is a huge variety of different napkin folds, from simple and elegant to extravagant and elaborate. Whatever suits your personal needs best should be the right choice.

    My go-to standard is the pyramid fold, and easy and classy addition to any formal table setting. Here's a great resource on napkin folding, with detailed picture by picture instructions on how to do them. Check it out HERE!

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