A quick guide to setting a formal table

There’s a memorable scene in the movie, Titanic (which was released in 1997, making it 20 years old!), where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Jack, sits down to a fancy, first-class dinner for the first time in his life. Noticing his discomfort at the various pieces of cutlery on the table in front of him, Molly Brown (played by Kathy Bates) advises him to “start from the outside and work his way in”.

Brown’s advice has probably made it easier for many people to use the cutlery on a properly set table, but very few of us would be able to actually set a table properly.

What goes where?

The amount of silverware depends on the amount of courses served, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll stick to a five-course meal. Let’s assume these courses include starters of soup and fish, followed by a salad, the main course, dessert, and ending with coffee or tea.

Start with a placemat or service plate – this will form the basis of your table setting. The dinner plate is placed on the service plate or placemat. Silverware is place to the left (forks) and right (knives – with blades facing the plate – and soup spoons) of the dinner plate, and arranged in order of use, from the outside, in.

On the right side of the dinner plate, the order of the silverware from the inside out is typically:

  • The dinner knife
  • The fish knife
  • The soup spoon

On the left side of the dinner plate the order of the silverware from the inside out is typically:

  • The dinner fork
  • The salad fork
  • The fish fork

Glassware is placed to the right and above the dinner plate, whilst a bread plate with a butter knife is placed to the left and above the dinner plate.

Directly above the dinner plate, the cake fork is placed horizontally and with the prongs facing to the right. A dessert spoon is placed above the dessert fork, with the spoon bowl facing to the left.

After dessert has been served, tea and coffee arrives, with a saucer and a teaspoon.

The next time you host dinner at home, try this table setting and see how your guests react. And, should you attend an event at one of our prime venues any time soon, you’ll be sure to find your way without help from the Unsinkable Molly Brown.