A Top Designer Shares 3 Quick Tricks for Setting a Proper Dinner Table

Updated 05/01/19

Alicia Henderson Photography; DESIGN: B Floral

Plenty of things have changed around what constitutes appropriate dinner party etiquette for a modern host and their guests. For instance, sending an invite electronically is perfectly fine, just as it's no longer expected to RSVP by calling a house phone. It's rare, too, for a host to serve food using fine china, and it's also uncommon for partygoers to arrive in fancy clothes. 

But nevertheless, there are some things that will always be a cornerstone of hosting, and one of them is how to set a table properly. When at the helm of a dinner party—no matter how casual the setting or how intimate the company—it's worthwhile to have a pleasing backdrop that showcases the hard work of preparing a crowd-pleasing meal. That's where a tablescape comes into play. 

"While entertaining family and friends, it's important to create a warm and inviting atmosphere," says Bronwen Smith, owner and lead designer of B Floral. "A well-designed tablescape will impress guests and set the mood for the night to come."

Just as a host should figure out how many people will be attending and how much food to cook, Smith says that it's just as necessary to consider a theme for the table and to set it up accordingly. We asked her to describe exactly how to set a table, and what to remember about its details. By keeping her tips in mind, you'll be a modern host with timeless sensibilities. 

"When you set a table properly, guests will notice the extra effort you took to make the event memorable," she says.

Getting Started

Alicia Henderson Photography1—proper way to set a table
 Alicia Henderson Photography; DESIGN: B Floral

"Each tablescape is unique, so how you like to set your table is dependent on what kind of event you're hosting," Smith says. "One of my favorite ideas for a dinner party with friends is an 'elevated casual' table setting. For this style, you'll need a dinner plate, salad plate, soup bowl, napkin, water glass, wine glass, dinner knife, dinner fork, and soup spoon. You can remove pieces such as a soup bowl or a salad plate if you're not serving dishes that require them."

Keep in Mind

Alicia Henderson Photography2—proper way to set a table
 Alicia Henderson Photography; DESIGN: B Floral 

"Make sure you come prepared with all items needed," Smith adds. "It's never a good look for one table setting to differ from the rest. If you're unsure of how many guests will make an appearance, have additional pieces on hand in case extra guests arrive."

How to Set the Table

Alicia Henderson Photography3—proper way to set a table
 Alicia Henderson Photography; DESIGN: B Floral 

"Start by placing the dinner plate on the table," Smith adds. "If you'd like, you can also add a charger beneath the dinner plate, which is traditionally a larger plate than the one that's eaten on. But an out-of-the-box idea can include a banana leaf or piece of driftwood. After, put the salad plate on top of the dinner plate."

"Next, if you're having a soup course, place the soup bowl on top of the salad plate," Smith continues. "Lay the napkin either to the left of the plate or on top of the plate. You don't have to stick to the traditional napkin placement if you'd like to switch it up."

"After, place the dinner fork to the left of the dinner plate and the knife to the right of the dinner plate," Smith adds. "Then, place the soup spoon to the right of the dinner knife. The water glass should go above the dinner knife, and finally, the wine glass should be placed next to the water glass. Raise it slightly higher, and you're all set. That's the easiest—and still proper—way to set a table."

Use These Items for Your Next Dinner Party

Forks—proper way to set a table
Crate and Barrel Couture Copper 5-Piece Flatware Place Setting $60
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Plate—proper way to set a table
West Elm Modern Melamine Dinner Plates $10
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Parachute—proper way to set a table
Parachute Washed Linen Table Runner $50
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Food52—proper way to set a table
Food52 Tapered Beeswax Candles (Set of 8) $50
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Glass—proper way to set a table
Waterford 'Lismore' Lead Crystal Balloon Wine Glass $90
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