How to set a fancy table for the holidays and special occasions

A well set table is the backdrop when creating an outstanding dining experience. With Thanksgiving and other special holidays around the corner, you may want to bring out the “good” china for these occasions.  Or, if you just want to make an occasion feel special; formal place settings are perfect.

My table is set for a 4 course meal. It would consist of soup, salad, main course and dessert.

Start by setting out the dinner plates.   Make sure the place settings are evenly spaced and that plates are far enough apart to give elbow room to your guests.   Next, cups and glasses go on the right side of the plate, and bread and butter plates go to the left. Position butter plates above the forks with the butter spreader placed across the plate. We placed the salad plate on top of the dinner plate and the soup bowl on top of that.

Silverware  is arranged around the plate in the order in which it will be used: you take from the outside in  and from first course to the main course. Don’t bother putting out utensils that won’t be used.

Forks are placed to the left of the plate, knives and spoons to the right. Unless you’re serving fish in which case this fork goes on the outermost right side of the plate.   Always remember to put the blade of the knife facing the plate and try to make sure all the utensil handles line up.

If you’re serving dessert, the fork and/spook silverware is placed above the plate. The dessert fork should have the handle facing left and the dessert spoon with the handle facing right.  Or, you can bring out these utensils with the dessert. 

Don’t forget the napkins. They should be cloth and they ordinarily go to the left of the forks.  Adding a decorative fold is a nice touch. Ours were fan folded and placed in the wine goblets.  They could also be rolled, knotted, or placed in napkin rings. It might be a fun time to learn how to make a special napkin fold.   You can look for 2 in our video section.

Next are glasses. All glasses should be placed above the knives, ranging from largest to smallest. Classically it would be the water goblet in back, red wine goblet, white wine goblet, then a dessert coffee cup and saucer (if you’re planning to serve coffee or tea) Otherwise the coffee can come out with dessert. 

Special touches to your setting could include:

  • Use a decorative or personalized place setting with your guests name on a card or special item.
  • When selecting a centerpiece for the table, make sure it isn't too tall (10 to 12 inches is an acceptable maximum height), otherwise guests won't be able to see each other across the table.
  • Try not to put the dinner plate directly on the table. Use a tablecloth or a nice placemat first and then put the dinner plate on top of that.  I chose to use silver chargers since this dining table was too pretty to hide under a tablecloth.



 While the formal table setting is very extraordinary, you’re going to have lots of dishes to clean up afterwards.  Hopefully some of your friends won’t mind staying for that!


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