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Our guide to perfect table settings

Ah, table settings. The cause of that awkward moment when you reach for a side plate on the wrong side, or go to town on a course with the wrong fork at a formal dinner. Table settings can be tough to navigate as a guest, let alone when you actually have to plan them yourself.

Luckily, when you’ve been in the business of events for as long as we have, we can set a table with our eyes closed (we don’t actually do that, don’t worry). Here’s our simple guide to getting table settings right:

Relax. It’s not so serious.

Thankfully, it’s 2019 and you aren’t going to be carted off to finishing school for not knowing a dinner fork from a salad fork or dessert spoon from a soup spoon. Ultimately it just comes down to the style of the event you’re creating, and the type of food that will be served. As with everything, before you go ahead and break the rules, it helps to know what they are in the first place.

Feeling formal

The main difference between a formal and informal table setting is the number of utensils, dishes and glasses that are placed on the table at the start of the meal. Formal table settings are used for meals where there are going to be many courses – three or more. Of course if you’re having more than three courses, it might be easiest to let the waiters bring out the dishes, glasses and cutlery for each course (five glasses and more than three sets of utensils can take up a lot of space).


For formal events, a service plate (the large plate that goes under a dinner plate) is used and remains on the table between courses. It adds a decorative touch, completing the overall look of the table.

The dinner plate

This goes in the middle of your table setting, on a charger for formal events or directly on the table for informal settings. Depending on how the food is going to be served, the dinner plate may be brought out by waiters with the main meal (or collected at a buffet), in which case, a folded napkin just goes in its place on the table.

Napkin placement

Now’s a good time to mention that napkin placement is something that’s completely up to the host. It can go in a glass, under the forks, over the plate, between the dinner plate and service plate – whatever you like. Get some inspiration here.

Buttered up

If bread is going to be served, a small bread plate is placed above the forks, or to the left of the forks (depending on space). A butter knife is then placed diagonally across the plate.

Glass act

Glassware for a formal setting may include up to five different types for the different courses. No matter how many glasses you have, they always go on the right, above the knives, and are placed in the order in which they’ll be used:

  1. Water glass
  2. Champagne glass
  3. White wine glass
  4. Red wine glass
  5. A sherry glass

When you have more than three glasses, you can place the smaller glasses in front of the taller ones in a triangular shape.

Confusing cutlery

Now for the part that stumps most people. When it comes to cutlery, follow the order in which each piece will be used, from the outside in. This means the dinner knife and fork are placed immediately on either side of the plate or charger, followed by fish knife and fork (if needed), salad knife and fork, and finally a soup spoon (if needed).

All the forks go on the left, and all the knives and the soup spoon on the right. If you’re serving dessert, the dessert spoon and fork are placed above the plate, with the spoon facing to the left, and the fork to the right.

And that’s it! As long as you guide your table setting choices by the menu and keep the experience of your guests in mind, it will always be perfect.

Overwhelmed by glassware and dessert forks? Not sure what you need or how to place it? The events team at MPR Hiring are here to help give you advice and make sure you have exactly what you need for your next event. We offer a large range of crockery, cutlery and tableware.
Get in touch for a custom quote and expert advice.