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How to Set a Table: Basic, Casual, and Formal Table Settings

Learn to set your table with elegance for any occasion with BK Ciandre's guide on basic, casual, and formal table settings.

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A well-set dinner table is the perfect start to any meal; it can lighten up the mood. But have you ever wondered what it takes to have the perfect arrangement of a table? You can arrange the cutlery at the dinner table in three styles, the first being the regular, a little above the usual, and a typical formal setup. 

A basic table can be easily arranged using the basic items available in every kitchen. You only need a basic dinner plate, spoon, drinking glass, and fork. This is all you need to enjoy your everyday meals. A casual setting for a table is followed during small family gatherings with long discussions at the dinner table. You might need a few extra utensils like a salad plate or a separate plate for bread, leaving extra space for some glasses. 

Formal settings are for special occasions where the goal is to impress the guests. You will need plates of different sizes, spoons for dessert and soups, different types of glasses, and fancy plates to put under the dinner plate, too. 

Elegantly set table with festive garland centerpiece perfect for holiday dining with a refined ambiance Ideal for family gatherings

Purpose of Basic, Casual, and Formal Table Settings

The setting at your dinner table should reflect the essence and the quality of the meal the guests are about to be served. While a basic table setting simply reflects the purpose of a dining table in everyday life, it is in a casual and formal setting that you get to experience the quality of food in class.

Basic Table Setting: 

This type of table setting is simple and practical, making it ideal for daily breakfast or lunch with close family and friends. The seating arrangement should be ideal and comfortable, leaving enough room on the table for a more organized look. 

Casual Table Setting:

In a casual setting, there should be a balance between comfort and style. Such a setting is ideal for brunches, potluck lunches, or weekday dinners with friends. Guests should be able to enjoy comfortable yet well-prepared meals served with the appropriate utensils. 

Formal Table Setting: 

This type of setting is used in functions and big gatherings as it includes multiple-course meals. Since this type of setting is rarely used, is it only applicable for holiday dinners, weddings, anniversary celebrations, or formal dinner parties? Formal settings not only add elegance but also incorporate a feeling of sophistication. 

Type of Setting 




Best for everyday meals at the table 

Quick meals, family breakfasts, informal lunches


Balance of both comfort and good presentation

Brunches, weekend dinners, get-togethers with friends


Ideal for multi-course meals and fancy occasions

Special events, holidays, formal dinners

1. How to Set a Basic Table

While setting a basic table, the focus should be on the arrangement of only the basic items like a dinner plate, a fork, a knife, a spoon, and a glass. Setting the table for a basic dinner ensures guests are comfortable and can enjoy the meal freely. Follow the instructions below to set up an elegant and functional basic table. 

Table Setting Instructions:

  • You should place the dinner plate in the center. 
  • The dinner knife goes to the right. 
  • The fork will stay on the left. 
  • Dessert cutlery is not included as you do not serve it. A wine glass or champagne flute could be included for a fancy brunch.
  • The glass for water should stay near the knife. 
  • You must place a napkin next to the dinner plate.

Things to Keep in Mind 

  • The setting has to be minimal.
  • Utensils should be spaced evenly and neatly.
  • Keep it clutter-free. 

2.How to Set a Casual Table

To give your casual table setting the best look possible, include an element of comfort but keep up with the style. You need basic and extra utensils like salad plates, bread plates, and a separate glass for serving juice or wine. 

Remember to add a casual centerpiece to elevate the overall look of the dinner tableYou can add a simple bouquet of fresh flowers for day gatherings and a few scented candles for a warm ambiance for a cozy dinner.

Table Setting Instructions:

  • rectangular table is preferred in a casual setup. 
  • Always lay the placemat on the table before anything else. 

Start by setting the basic table first.

  • A soup bowl must be placed on the salad plate. 
  • The fork has to be kept above the napkin. 
  • A knife should always be placed close to where the dinner plate is kept. 
  • You can also keep a spoon for soup next to the knife. 
  • The plate for salad will come above the plate for dinner. 
  • The right way to place a wine glass is next to the regular glass. 
  • The glass of water will come near the knife next to the wine glass. 

Things to Keep in Mind 

  • Maintain a relaxed arrangement.
  • Leave ample space for guests to serve themselves from dishes on the table.
  • It is recommended to use coordinating tableware. 

3.How to Set a Formal Table

Formal gatherings like weddings, corporate dinners, and elite parties are occasions where multiple cuisines and meals are served. There are certain rules associated with setting a formal table; the placement of each piece of cutlery is fixed, plate chargers are a must under the dinner plates, and many more. 

The placement of every element on a formal table should impress the guests with a touch of luxury. Small crystal centerpieces placed at small distances will elevate the final look of the table. You can also experiment with the lighting and the use of colors during the decor arrangement to match the flowers.

Table Setting Instructions:

  • Keep an ironed tablecloth on the table. 
  • Fixing a charger at each seat will enhance the formal setting. 
  • A bowl of soup should be kept at the center of each table. 
  • Then comes the plate for bread, which must stay at the left. 
  • Then you must keep a salad fork and another fork for dinner. Forks could also be placed on napkins for more space. 
  • A knife has to placed next to the soup spoon. Note: All the vertical flatware, like the dinner fork, salad fork, knife, and soup spoon should be spaced evenly. They should be kept almost half an inch away from each other. The bottom of the cutlery should lay parallel to that of the charger plate. 
  • A butter knife will always stay next to the regular knife. 
  • The water glass goes directly above the water glass. 
  • You have to place a glass of white wine. 
  • A red wine glass must stay near the other wine glass. 
  • Lay the dessert spoon right above the charger. 
  • A napkin should be placed next to each plate.
  • Lastly, lay pepper and salt shakers near the spoons and towards the outer side. 

Things to Keep in Mind

  • Pay attention to symmetry and precision.
  • Use cloth napkins folded in decorative styles. Napkin rings could also be used.
  • Consider having floral arrangements or centerpieces. 

Tips Beyond the Basics

The article above discussed the minute details and essentials for all three types of table settings. Some general guidelines are to be followed irrespective of what table setting is being set up, and these will help you set any table without hassle. 

1. Cutlery is set outside-in: The utensils are always placed in order of use, with the outermost utensil being used first. This placement allows diners to easily work inwards as the courses progress.

2. Forks are laid on the left: This standard Western practice is followed for all table settings. There should be a visual balance between the knives as they are kept closer to the dominant hand for most people.

3. Knives stay right: The ideal way to place a knife is to keep the edge towards the plate, keeping it at a fair reach of the hand.  

4. Glassware is placed in the top-right corner: Placing the glasses on the right ensures easy reach per table arrangement conventions. So, the tallest glass is typically placed closest to the plate, and smaller glasses are positioned to the right.

Decoration Ideas for Different Table Settings

Formal settings with simple chic decor and candles or casual spreads with vibrant centerpieces and fun placemats for a homely touch

Table decoration is the final touch that will elevate the dining experience for your guests. You choose the option that matches your decor well or even a color combination to soothe the eyes of the viewers. Here are some decoration tips that will help you elevate the look of the table:  

  • For basic table setting: A touch of nature can be a great decoration; add fresh flowers, a small living pot, or even a fruit basket as a centerpiece to enhance the table’s appearance.
  • For casual table setting: A pop of color with a patterned table runner or some scented candles for instant aroma in an intimate setting. 
  • For formal table setting: Crystal centerpieces reflect sparkle lights, inducing a sense of luxury, or you can use fine linen tabletops that match the decor well.


For a dining experience worth remembering, it is important to arrange everything at the table in an organized manner. Different occasions call for different table settings, and now you know how to set the right mood for your guests using the available resources. 

Check our range of furniture and choose from the wide range of dining tables to give your dining room the long-awaited makeover today. 


When is a charger plate used?

A charger plate is made to use in formal settings; it is put under dinner plates. These are to be removed before the main course.

How do we incorporate a personal touch to the table?

You can use unique tableware, meaningful flowers, or handwritten place cards to incorporate a personal touch.

How do you create a cozy atmosphere for small gatherings?

Use scented candles, warm lights, and soft music to create a cozy atmosphere in small gatherings. 

How do we cater to guests with some dietary restrictions in formal dinners?

You are advised to inquire about the dietary restrictions beforehand, if any. You must offer properly labeled items to avoid mistakes, and the servers must be well-informed.  

Are there any traditional or cultural differences in table-setting etiquette?

Yes, there are different table-setting cultures across different cultures; consider doing adequate research before hosting guests from other cultures to ensure everything runs smoothly. 


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