10 Easy-to-Follow Rules for Setting the Table

When we think back to our family's most cherished memories, many have happened while sitting around the table together. Whether it was an average weeknight dinner or a sophisticated soiree held to celebrate our loved ones, the table has been the central place where we can all gather, gab, and giggle together, no matter the occasion. Celebrating the little things is easy when we have a beautiful table setting to gather around.

Throughout our years of hosting unforgettable gatherings, we've certainly picked up a trick or two for how to set a table. To those new to hosting, everything can feel quite daunting. That's why we've compiled a list of ten rules that anyone can follow to create the perfect table setting for any occasion!

What is a Table Setting?

A table setting is the overarching term for every item set out during a meal, including table linens, utensils, dinnerware, glassware, and serveware. The overall look combines a centerpiece and multiple place settings, which are the individual plates and utensils set up in front of each chair. Table settings can be laid back with only a few key dishes or elaborate with beautiful centerpieces and formal dinnerware sets—it depends on the occasion!

What Are the 3 Types of Table Settings?

Learning how to set a table helps you create the atmosphere in the room. When you host, you can use these three different table setting styles to determine the overall tone of your gathering: 

  1. Basic: Perfect for a quick and easy everyday meal, basic settings use the minimal number of dishes and utensils needed to enjoy the meal.
  2. Casual: The style we use for most of our curated gatherings, casual table settings are slightly elevated, involving multiple serving dishes and dinnerware items at the place settings.
  3. Formal: A more elaborate setting that removes serveware from the table but requires a new dish for each course on the menu to be sat at the place settings.

Why We Enjoy Setting the Table

While a more formal table setting can typically be saved for special occasions, don't ignore the importance of setting the table every day! Understanding how to set a table for a wide range of events will show guests you care and helps everyone enjoy each other's company. Even if you're just setting a few dishes down for breakfast, getting into the habit of setting the table encourages us all to appreciate the little things in life.  

What Types of Gatherings Need a Table Setting?

Any gathering can be elevated with a creative tablescape, so why not make your guests feel at home by taking the time to pair your favorite dinnerware and serveware designs together? When you're hosting your friends and family for any meal, whether a charcuterie board or a four-course dinner party, go the extra mile and set the table. From themed dinner parties to last-minute backyard barbecues, learning how to set a table will help transform the tone of any event. 

Meals centered around holidays, special occasions, and milestone celebrations are always made better with a carefully crafted table setting. Create a backdrop with a colorful table setting for all your annual festivities, from Christmas dinner to a romantic fondue night on Valentine’s Day. When that once-in-a-lifetime milestone comes around, learning how to set a table with formal dinnerware determines an unbeatable celebratory tone. 

Our 10 Simple Rules to Setting the Table 

Setting the table is essential, whether you're hosting the annual family holiday party or an intimate brunch for your friends. Not sure where to start? Consider these ten rules for setting the table, and everything else will fall into place:

1. Set Your Table Ahead of Time
Don't leave the details to the last minute! Take one task off your lengthy to-do list and set the table hours before your guests arrive to give yourself more time to set up the rest of the event. For grand tablescapes, like an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner party or wedding luncheon, you can even start the night before, so you have the entire day leading up to your event free to prepare the rest of the house and menu.  

2. Serving Styles Can Impact Table Settings

Whether you're hosting an easy backyard barbeque or a sit-down engagement party, the serving style you choose directly affects the way you'll set the table. When you're serving family style, it's important to plan for fitting all serving dishes on the table. On the other hand, your serving dishes stay in the kitchen for formal occasions, allowing you to have more space on your table for place settings and accessories. As you design your place settings and brainstorm tablescapes, consider what serving style you'll use before you choose any dishes. 

3. Coordinate Your Dishes to Match the Season
Make designing place settings easy by matching your dishes to the season. Certain dinnerware patterns and colors of serveware easily flow with different times of the year, helping you create a thoughtful table setting for every occasion. For instance, you might not want the pop of color from the Citrus Collection in the dead of winter. Instead, you may feature a classic Signature White plate or sophisticated Crew Collection to better match the holiday feel and nature of the season. 

To be able to create a table setting at the drop of a hat, invest in elevated everyday dinnerware you love to see in your home. Whether you lean towards vibrant patterns or timeless colors, choosing dinnerware that matches your style sets you up for success when you host. Owning a couple of curated dinnerware collections so you can switch dishes out when the mood strikes is an easy way to give your table a decoration renovation. 

When the holidays roll around, switching items out for your seasonal dinnerware and serveware will transform any gathering. From everyday meals with your children to hosting a formal New Year’s Day dinner, festive plates and serving platters with playful and nostalgic designs, from turkey platters to reindeer bowls, turn any table setting into a picture right out of a holiday catalog!

Popular Plate Sets: 

Whether you're deciding how to set a table for your family's everyday breakfast or looking for a sophisticated place setting for a holiday dinner party, make setting the table simple with these matching plate settings in your cabinets: 

4. Always Have Table Linens on Hand

When deciding how to set a table, table linens can determine everything from the color scheme of your tablescape to the tone of the gathering. Owning a wide collection of cloth napkins, placemats, cocktail napkins, and tablecloths in different patterns and colors makes designing unique table settings simple. 

After they've been used, you can toss them in the wash, and they'll come out softer than ever and ready for their next use. Whether you're creating a pastel table setting for Easter or a weekday dinner, any table can be elevated with timeless table linens.  

5. Be Mindful When Choosing Serveware

Serveware ties together the theme of your tablescape and the overall feel of the event, so it's important to select serving platters, bowls, and boards that match the look you're going for. Curating a wide variety of serveware with colorful patterns will help you as you decide how to set a table at any gathering. 

There are two methods to choosing serveware that suits your gathering. Is the vibe you’re going for classy and effortlessly cool? Consider matching your serveware and using items from one collection throughout the table setting. If it's something warm, fun, and engaging, like a casual game night dinner, try using serveware that's bright and playful. Don't feel boxed into using one dish set—you can always mix and match to customize your design with complementary serveware as long as they go together!

Pro tip: As you discover how to set a table, avoid overcrowding the center with serving dishes. This could depend on many factors, such as how many place settings you put down or how many mains and side dishes you're serving, so be mindful of the space you have available as you plan which serveware you'll use.  

6. Every Place Setting Needs the Right Glassware
Wondering how to set a table with glassware? Make sure to only set out the glasses a guest will need. Sometimes, all a table needs is a collection of water glasses! Keep the table simple and clutter-free by determining what additional beverages will be served. Red or white wine? Lemonade? Cocktails? Once you choose the beverage options, selecting the matching glassware will complete each place setting

7. Consider Utensils for Each Place Setting

Gold or silver? Wooden? Plastic? Consider what you want for the overall feel of the event, whether casual and inviting or sophisticated and classy, and let that guide how you choose which utensils to set your table with.

When setting a more casual table, especially if it's last-minute or outdoors, plastic utensils get the job done and mean minimal cleanup at the end of the night. For more formal events, you may follow in your grandparent's footsteps and bring out the "good" silverware set, helping the gathering feel that much more special. For many of our gatherings, as long as they match the rest of the tablescape, we use the Sabre flatware we love to finish each place setting.

Wondering how to set a table when it comes to utensils? Whether you're setting a basic or formal place setting, the forks will always sit to the left of the plate and the knives and spoons to the right. For gatherings where multiple courses will be served, there must be a new utensil for each course set in order of use, working from the outside in. 

8. Be Mindful of the Table Size

Whether you're hosting a hundred people or a handful of your closest friends, your table size will impact the design of your table setting. If your dinner table seats four guests comfortably, then only set the table for four. Smashing more items and people in can look (and get!) messy. Understanding the limit for place settings, serveware space, and guests can help you as you choose how to set a table for that occasion. 

Certain occasions, whether you need to set a kid's table or seat multiple groupings of guests, will demand having multiple tables instead of just one. In this case, it's important to carry your tablescape themes throughout to create a cohesive look, from the centerpieces to the design of each place setting. 

Consider simplifying your table settings by moving your serving dishes to a stylish buffet table when you have a large guest list. That way, guests can serve their plates and keep the number of dishes at the dinner tables to a minimum. Don't forget to add a serving utensil to each dish to keep the assembly line running smoothly.

9. Decide If Decorations Are Necessary

Above all else, guests will remember the laughs you shared, the food they ate -- and the serveware and place settings, if they were especially pretty. Extra decorations can be added on a case-by-case basis and only if they make sense to be there in the first place. Certain holidays, special occasions, or curated gatherings lend themselves easily to beautiful decorations, while others, especially a spur-of-the-moment casual gathering, can do without them. 

Potential Table Setting Decorations:

10. Don't Forget to Have Fun!

    While our rules can help you get started, when it comes time to host, don't forget to have fun and take your design into your own hands! Experiment with vibrant patterns and interesting color combinations, showcase your favorite serving platters and glassware, and get creative with every item on that table, from toothpick holders to cloth napkins and more.

    Find inspiration in the world around you, whether it's the nature of the season, the nostalgia of the holiday, or the personal reason for your celebration. Keep this in mind, and you'll design unforgettable tablescapes every time!

    With our ten easy-to-follow rules, anyone can learn how to set a table. As you select each item for your table, think of the overarching theme, set only the utensils and dishes your guests will use, and feel inspired to create a beautiful table for every occasion.

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