how to properly set a table

how to properly set a table

Written By

Erin Boyle

Like with most things, there’s an option of falling deep into the rabbit hole of proper tabletop etiquette. Elaborate diagrams—even videos—exist for hosts eager to verify that their tabletop is shipshape for festive gatherings. But I suggest that there are really only a few key rules to remember and that the rest will fall into place naturally, as these things do. The message? Opt for simplicity instead.

For Thanksgiving dinners in particular, I’m hazarding the guess that the stakes are fairly low. I’m not sure about what happens in each of your families, but I’ve never been to a Thanksgiving meal where the main course was served by a troupe of servers in coattails. Thankfully, the rules are a lot easier when you’re dealing with a colorful plate of food served family style, or scooped up from the buffet in the dining room.

The bottom line? Don’t sweat the small stuff. There’s only so much a host can control, and I‘ll take the bet that you’ll never be able to stop your cousin Robert from reaching for his neighbor’s water glass, anyway.

Without further ado, a few rules:

  1. Diners work from the outside in. What does that mean? If you’re serving a salad course, the salad fork (the littler one) goes on the outer edge of the setting. Ditto soup spoons and bread knives (you use these first, so they get placed on the outer edge of the dinner knife).
  2. Forks on the left, knives on the right. I always remember this by miming cutting my food.  (I’m right handed, so I cut my food with my right hand. Remembering that helps me remember where to place the knife).
  3. The knife protects the spoon. In case you can’t remember that a meal typically starts with soup (See rule #1), it might help to remember that the knightly knife is protecting the sovereign spoon. And remember: if you’re not serving soup, no need for a soup spoon!
  4. Glasses go above the knives. For placement of water and wine glasses, refer to rule #1. Diners typically reach for water before wine, so those glasses go on the outside of the wine glasses.
  5. Dessert silverware goes up top. Think of it as the cherry on top!
  6. Napkins go to the left of the forks, unless they don’t. I like to use napkin rings and plunk my napkins smack dab in the middle of the plate. If that’s not your style, send ‘em over to the fork side of things.

Beyond these simple rules, I suggest paying most attention to the pumpkin pie in the oven and the peas on the stove. Everything else is . . . gravy.

Happy Thanksgiving!