Dining Tips: How To Set The Table For A Formal Dinner

The most formal dining experience available is the seven-course formal dinner. Learn how to set the table for a formal dinner occasion.

Unless one is part of the aristocracy a formal dining situation is not a daily affair. Most of us eat very casual, and some of us barely sit down at a table to eat. Busy schedules force us to eat on the run, or eat lunch at our desks while meeting deadlines. But what happens when the holidays or a special occasion occur? These occasions call for a formal sit down dinner. This style of dining requires the table to have a formal dining setting.

The most formal dining experience available is the seven-course formal dinner. The experience consists of a soup course, a fish course, a palate cleanser (sorbet), a meat or fowl course (entrée), a salad course, a dessert course and a coffee course. Your setting will have china, flatware and stemware to cover all of the courses.


Begin your setting with the china.Only two pieces of china will appear on the table. The charger plate is the base plate. It is not to be eaten off of, but to hold the other dishes that correspond with the dinner. Place the charger in the center of your individual setting, one inch from the edge of the table. Charger plates may be made of china, silver or brass. It is larger than a dinner plate, and is never removed from the table, as different dishes are cleared and presented on it.

On top of the charger place a cloth napkin and place card. If the napkin is folded flat and laid down, place the card on top of the napkin. If the napkin is folded three dimensional, place the place card in front of the napkin.

The second china that will be present is the bread and butter plate. This plate is smaller than a salad plate, and placed to the upper left-hand corner of the charger plate. On this plate, facing the left, is placed the butter spreader.


Place forks on the left side of the plate.Starting at the far-left place a fish fork, a dinner fork next and finally a salad fork. This is a traditional arrangement, with the salad following the entrée. California style dining calls for the salad to be served before the entrée.

If applicable place a cocktail fork on the right side of the plate, resting in the bowl of the soupspoon. The cocktail fork may also appear on the plate of which the cocktail is served. The dessert fork will appear above the plate, tines facing the right.

Set knives to the immediate right of the plate. Starting at the far right place a fish knife, a dinner knife next and finally a salad knife.As with the forks, this is a traditional arrangement. If serving California style, the salad fork shall be placed first or furthest to the right.

Place spoons to the right of the knives. Only two spoons are in this arrangement - the soupspoon and the dessert spoon. A teaspoon or demitasse spoon will accompany the coffee during its course.

The dessert spoon shall be placed above the plate, above the desert fork. The dessert fork will face the right, but the dessert spoon shall face the left. The sorbet spoon shall accompany the dish.


After the china and flatware are set, follow with the stemware. One will need five glasses. They should all be of the same pattern. Stemware is placed in the upper right-hand corner of the plate, next to the dessert fork and dessert spoon. From the left to the right, place a water goblet, a red wineglass, a white wineglass and sherry glass. Behind the water goblet and the red wineglass, a champagne flute should be set.

The champagne flute is for a toast. The red wineglass is for the entrée, if it is a red meat. If it is a fowl, omit this glass, and reuse the white glass. The white wineglass is for the fish course. The sherry glass is for the pre-dinner drink, and the water goblet is for the entire meal.


Directly in back of, but in the middle of the bread and butter plate and the dessert flatware, place an individual salt and pepper shaker set. To the right of the shakers place a menu card.

Following these guidelines will produce an eye-catching as well as functional table. Your guests will be impressed at the regal display of china, stemware and flatware. And if the meal is as splendid as the setting, your dinner will be fondly remembered for a long time to come.

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