Setting Dinnerware for Formal Dining

Setting Dinnerware for Formal Dining

Hosting a formal dinner party may seem like a daunting task to many of us, with plenty of faux pas to try and avoid, however, you can easily nail one crucial aspect of formal dining events: correctly laying the table. Here are the most important things you need to keep in mind when setting dinnerware for formal dining, along with some helpful tips on how to arrange your flatware and glassware.

Informal vs Formal Dining

When it comes to dining events, they can easily be broken down into two categories: formal and informal. Knowing the difference between the two will not only help you set the right atmosphere for a gather but also help you avoid any common faux pas.

The most noticeable difference between an informal and formal setting is the type of dinnerware used and the number of pieces used, along with the number of flatware and glassware items used for each place setting. 

How to Set Out Your Dinnerware

For formal dining occasions, there are very clear etiquette rules on how everything should be set out, including your dinnerware.

Once you have laid out your tablecloth, it’s customary to place a service plate – also known as a charger – at each setting, which simply serves a decorative function and should not be used to eat from.

If you really want to go the extra mile, then ensure then use your service plates and dinnerware as the foundations of a distinct theme for the evening.

Whether you are looking for a classic or modern vibe, the right dinnerware set will help you set the scene, with brands like Corelle offering plenty of different dinnerware designs to choose from.

Once you have set out the service plates, your dinnerware should follow in the following order:

  • Dinner plate: It’s customary for the dinner plate to be placed directly on top of the service plate. Although this differs among establishments, if you are hosting a formal dining event in your home this is a perfectly acceptable way to set out your dinnerware.
  • Salad plate/soup bowl: The order of your salad plates and soup bowls will be dictated by your menu. If you are only serving one or the other than they will be placed directly in the centre of the dinner plate. Otherwise, the soup bowl should be replaced by a salad plate when the former is cleared away.
  • Bread plate: The bread plate and butter knife are always placed on the left of the main table setting, above the forks.
  • Dessert plate: The dessert plate should take the place of the dinner place once the main course has been cleared away.

How to Set Out Flatware and Glassware

Of course, dinnerware isn’t the only aspect of a table setting that needs to be properly laid out for formal dining occasions. Flatware and glassware also have their specific place at each place setting.

The old “work from the outside in” rule is generally correct unless you are serving salad. The dinner fork should always be placed closest to the plate – or the salad fork if you will be serving salad – to the left of which sits the fish fork if one will be needed.

On the right-hand side of your dinnerware, the salad fork sits on the inside, followed by the dinner knife, fish knife, and soup spoon, working from the outside in.

Of course, the exact order of your flatware will depend on the courses you are serving. You should also include a butter knife – placed on the bread dish – and a cake fork and dessert spoon, which go above the place setting.

Your glassware should all be set out to the right of each place setting, above the knives and in line with the bread dish, dessert spoon and cake fork. The water glass should be closest to the dinnerware, followed by a red wine glass, then a white wine glass. 


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