When we talk about table etiquette, we are not just referring to the standards of behavior to be observed at a formal meal. Table etiquette is also about the rules for setting the formal table, conventions that allow it to be done according to tradition and welcome diners to a perfect table.
The position of the plates, cutlery, glasses and all the other elements that must be present on the table during a formal meal is designed so that the diners can enjoy them in a comfortable and refined way. Here are some tips to follow to set a table in an impeccable way!

Dressage rules

When it comes to tableware and utensils, the items you will need for setting up your formal table can be divided into 4 categories:

  • washing up : includes serving plates and presentation plate
  • table cloth : tablecloth and napkins;
  • Covered : knives, forks, spoons and fruit and dessert cutlery;
  • glasses : water, wine and dessert

The first rule is comfort

Contrary to popular belief, the first rule for setting a formal table is comfort. However, this “comfort” only applies if you are right-handed: these training systems are not very comfortable for left-handed people who, unfortunately, will have all the cutlery and glasses upside down.

The cutlery is arranged so that you can always keep the fork on the left and the knife on the right. The tablespoon will be placed on the right, and the dessert or fruit cutlery should be placed on top of the plate, in the most comfortable direction. The same goes for water and wine glasses. The cutlery must be stored in the order of use, always starting from the outside.

At the table, size matters

In a formal table, the dimensions and the distance between the elements are very important. This applies to plates, glasses, napkins and everything needed to set the table. The entire dressing, which goes from the napkin to the spoon, should measure 70-80 cm. The distance between the plate and cutlery from the edge of the table should be 2 cm.

How to set the table formally

Washing up

In a formal table, the presentation plate is almost necessary. Remember that the color should contrast with the color chosen for the tablecloth and, if it is silver, the bread plate should be too. The flat plate must be placed above the presentation plate. The soup plate is placed on the dinner plate. If you are serving a soup that requires a bowl, the soup plate should not be added. The bread plate should be positioned at the top left.


Forks should be placed to the left of the plates. Starting from the outside you will have the starter fork and the one for the main course closest to the plate. If some of your dishes include fish, remember that there is a special fork and it should be positioned depending on when that dish will be served. Have you planned a broth or a soup? The serving spoon should be positioned to the right of the plate from the outside part. Then, proceeding inwards, you will have the knife for the main course. The fish knife should be positioned between the spoon and the meat knife. Fruit and dessert cutlery should be placed above the plate from the top in this order: dessert spoon, positioned with the handle to the right; dessert or fruit fork, with the handle turned to the left; and finally the fruit knife, with the handle to the right. Remember that only really useful cutlery should be present, depending on the menu you will be serving. A final rule on cutlery concerns the butter knife: each guest must have his own, placed on the bread plate.


All glasses are placed in the upper right corner, above knives and spoons. There are two ways you can do it here, following the rule… or not. In any case, you won’t make any mistakes, don’t worry! The water glass, usually low, can be the outer glass or can be placed next to the dessert cutlery. The white wine and red wine glasses must be positioned next to each other starting from the right with the white wine one. On top of the two wine glasses, you can place the one for sparkling wine or sweet wine for dessert.

Tablecloth and napkins

For a formal dinner, forget the placemats or table runners, you need a tablecloth and it must be perfectly ironed. The same goes for the napkin which must then be placed to the left of the plate, next to the forks. You can fold it into a triangle or a rectangle, but you never have to put it on the plate (which only happens in restaurants).


If you have place cards, you can place them between the bread plate and the fruit and dessert cutlery. Individual salt and pepper shakers will be placed on top of the bread plate.

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