The Ultimate Guide to Setting a Table You Love

When you have designs that you love, setting the table isn’t a chore; it’s an art. With the simple addition of a few go-to dishes and table linens, you can take any meal from basic to beautiful, no matter the occasion. Whether you’re designing elaborate, themed place settings for a bridal shower or searching for casual table décor for a laid-back pizza party, the way you set your table also sets the tone. 

With the right guidance and a few tips and tricks, you’ll be creating tablescapes like a pro. Learn how to set and decorate a table you love with our ultimate guide.   

What is a Table Setting? 

A table setting refers to any combination of dinnerware, serveware, utensils, glassware, table linens, and decorations one may put on a table. This can be anything from a couple of dinner plates and placemats to a floor-length tablecloth and layered charger plates.   

Why We Love Setting the Table   

Experimenting with table setting ideas can elevate everyday dining experiences into curated, extraordinary occasions—without too much extra work. Just a little extra effort like adding table décor allows us to celebrate ordinary meals and special gatherings alike, encouraging us to appreciate every moment spent around the table with the ones we love.  

Decorating a table enhances the magic of gathering together over a meal by adding stylish, decorative, and functional pieces to the space. From casual family breakfasts to formal dinner parties, taking the time to come up with table setting ideas is a way to instantly transform your entertaining spaces and make your guests feel welcome.   

We love to curate our unique tablescapes because it gives us a chance to express ourselves as hosts. From implementing decorative table ideas using festive holiday colors to mixing and matching our favorite dish sets and napkins, any table décor is possible when we have the essentials we need and a few great ideas.  

Essential Dinnerware Items for a Set Table 

Whether you’re setting a quick place setting for a cup of coffee and biscotti in the morning or planning table décor for your wedding reception, all table settings consist of a mixture of these must-have essentials:  

  • Dinner plates (or pasta bowls) 
  • Salad plates 
  • Bowls 
  • Utensils (forks, spoons, knives) 
  • Napkins 
  • Glassware 
  • Placemats 

When to Create a Table Setting 

We recommend putting your table setting ideas to the test whenever you host. For instance, if you have a more casual get-together, such as a pool party or game-watch party, guests are more likely to snack and graze rather than sit down to eat. But, if you’re hosting a formal gathering, classy and sophisticated table décor is essential, especially if it’s for a special occasion. 

What Are the 3 Main Table Setting Types? 

The sky is the limit in terms of creative table setting ideas, but it’s important to understand the three main categories. Once you understand these, you can experiment and decorate a table for any occasion.  

1. Basic Table Settings

    A basic table setting is the most pared-down option when it comes to table décor, using only the necessary dinnerware essentials for the menu at hand. Think of this style as your go-to table décor layout for your weeknight family dinners. Some people even like to keep their table set 24/7 as a part of their overall home decor.  

    How to Set a Basic Table 

    Basic table settings typically include a dinner plate, napkin utensils, water glasses, and soup bowls or salad plates when necessary. Set the needed dinnerware in front of each chair, with the napkin and fork to the left and the spoon and knife to the right. The water glass is placed slightly above the dinner plate on the right side to form a little triangle. Depending on the occasion or intended tablescape look, you can set down placemats under each dinnerware set, but they’re not always necessary.  

    For basic table settings, you don’t need to worry so much about extra table décor ideas, but there are a few options for serving dish placement. With more laid-back, everyday meals, it can be easiest to fill up plates directly from the kitchen. But, to make a tablescape feel extra special, placing cookware and serving platters on the table family-style can complete the look. 

    2. Casual Table Settings

      Anyone can set a perfect casual table with the right table setting ideas and occasion. A casual table setting is a slightly elevated version of the basic style that works for most events, from a surprise birthday party to a themed brunch with friends. Casual table setting ideas are best for spontaneous gatherings that you can put together whenever the mood strikes!     

      How to Set a Casual Table 

      Whenever you need to decorate a table to wow your guests, but you’re not ready to commit to a plated, formal gathering, casual is the best choice. Casual table settings consist of dinner plates, cloth napkins, water goblets, utensils, and wine glasses, with added salad plates and soup bowls should the menu require them. Cocktail glasses and placemats are optional and up to the host! 

      When it comes to serveware, there’s no need to be overly formal with casual table décor. We either serve family-style by placing all serving platters and bowls in the center of the table for guests to pass around or on a separate buffet-style table for each person to fill their plate. With our Gumbo and the Game Gathering, the table decoration and setting were designed to be held or placed in our laps to watch the big game but still included a stylish bowl, utensils set, and napkin.  

      Finding Inspiration for Casual Table Setting Ideas 

      We will always love hosting formal dinners, but casual yet elevated gatherings are the most common type of event in our family. We love decorating a memorable table time and time again, and whether we’re drawing inspiration from the menu, occasion, or theme, casual table décor makes that possible. Hosting spur-of-the-moment parties challenges us to get creative with our table setting ideas, from mixing and matching dinnerware patterns to featuring bold colors—something you’ll soon learn to love as well. 

      3. Formal Table Settings

        As the name implies, a formal table setting is only used for the most special occasions, celebrations, and important milestones. Formal table settings include all the same dinnerware items as a casual setting—with a few extra bells and whistles, such as bread plates, dessert plates, extra utensils, and specific drink glassware. Whenever you host a multi-course meal or plated menu, it’s time to come up with formal table setting ideas 

        How to Set a Formal Table 

        After you lay down a tablecloth and complementing placemats, a charger plate is set before each set to act as a decorative base layer. Each course requires its dinnerware item, as they’ll be cleared when the guests are finished, so layer a dinner plate, salad plate, and soup bowl on top of the charger. Set a folded napkin to the left of the plate.  

        Utensils are set in order of use, working outside in. Both forks are set to the left of the plate, with the salad fork on the outside and the dinner fork on the inside. Knives and spoons will sit on the right side, with the blade pointing in. Water and wine glasses will go above the right side, with dessert and bread and butter utensils and a plate placed at the top left.     

        For formal dinners, you’ll also want to pull out all the stops when it comes to decorating ideas for your table. Beyond the dishes and serveware, these types of gatherings usually call for grand centerpieces, elegant place cards, and thoughtful touches to make the event unforgettable. 

        3 Table Setting Ideas for Serveware

        The place where you set up your serving dishes depends largely on the serving style you choose. After designing dinnerware place settings for each guest, it’s time to decide where to place your food for serving. Get creative with table setting ideas in these three areas:

        1. Place it on the table: otherwise known as family-style, setting out your delicious menu in the center of your dining table encourages a casual, cozy, and comfortable atmosphere where you and your guests can pass around each dish and appreciate the table décor.
        2. Set up a buffet: for larger gatherings that involve more mingling or multiple dining tables, it’s best to keep all your serving dishes together in one easy-to-access spot. Use a different table or counter space as a buffet, inviting all your guests to line up and serve themselves before sitting.
        3. Keep it in the kitchen: for the most formal occasions, your guests may not even lay eyes on your serveware collection. If you’re serving a plated meal, where each course is brought out to the table, you can store your serveware in the kitchen.   

        How Do You Add Dimension to a Tablescape? 

        The secret to creating memorable table setting ideas? Make sure your table decoration includes visually interesting dimensions with serveware, dinnerware, and accessories. When selecting your tabletop accessories and dish sets, consider pairing different sizes, shapes, and heights to create a dynamic look.   

        Don’t forget to add dimension to your dining table centerpiece ideas. Multiple floral arrangements offer more than color to a tablescape—they add volume. Use vases, votives, or even terracotta pots, as we did for our For Baby Smith Curated Gathering, to change the height of your floral centerpieces.    

        Table linens are another key when it comes to adding dimension, texture, and color to your tablescape. Mix and match, layer, fold, and style to make the perfect base and accents for your table. 

        What’s the Proper Way to Layer Table Linens?    

        The correct order for layering table linens is to start with a tablecloth covering the surface of the table, adding placemats in front of each chair, and then placing a folded napkin on the left side or top of your dinnerware. There are plenty of exciting table decoration options to spruce up this layered look, from mixing and matching bold colors to adding patterns and texture.   

        Does a Table Setting Need a Theme? 

        While not always required, coming up with themed table setting ideas can add fun and festivity to the gathering. For celebrations and holidays, sticking to a theme can help you curate a unique tablescape design and make the gathering all the more memorable. For instance, if you’re holding a Valentine’s Day Fondue Gathering, leaning into the classic holiday hues of pink, red, and white with heart-shaped plates and Estelle Colored Glass can elevate the event.   

        Selecting Tablescape Colors

        The best tablescapes are the ones you make—and selecting colors is one of the most important steps for table décor. If you’re going for a clean, uniform look, try matching color on color for a timeless monochrome style, as seen in this featured Spring Table Setting look, “Beet It.” If you want your table setting ideas to pop, white or neutral table linens never go out of style and make the perfect base layer for bold dishes. 

        To feature one or two hues in your table decoration, choose table linens, dinnerware, and serveware with complementary colors. Pair a subtle and classic dinnerware set, such as our Signature White Collection, with vibrant table linens and serveware for a cohesive tabletop look that works for any event.  

        If you want to try your hand at bold and beautiful color pairings, go pattern-heavy. We recommend using our Fundamentals Collection as the foundation, with rustic textures and beautiful color options, from the red Color Block placemats to the sage wooden appetizer utensils. From there, dare to be different with your table setting ideas, and don’t be afraid to experiment with all the patterns you love. 

        7 Table Decorating Ideas for Extra Flair  

        You deserve to feel proud of each table setting idea you have—but what’s the secret? Focusing on the little details! Incorporate one {or more} of these fun table decorating ideas into your next gathering to make your tablescape stand out time and time again:   

        1. Fold your cloth napkins in fun ways to add a special touch to each place setting.
        2. Add a handwritten or typed place setting card at the head of each plate.
        3. Buy unique napkin rings with fun textures, like taffeta or rattan.
        4. Mix and match different dinnerware patterns for a bold and unique look.
        5. Add vintage candleholders to the centerpiece to add a timeless style.
        6. Set out whimsically shaped toothpick holders, depending on the menu.
        7. Place seasonal florals in a Signature White Ruffle Vase.

        Whether we realize it or not, a large portion of our lives is spent gathered around the table, so make every table setting count. From everyday mealtimes to special occasions, hosting is about more than setting down plates—it’s about executing creative table setting ideas to make each gathering memorable. With this ultimate guide to setting the table, you can use these table décor ideas to set a table you love whenever you wish.

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