Whether your dinner is very formal or not so formal, there are a few basic guidelines to setting a table.
- The key here is to be practical. Don't seat two people who notoriously get into vicious arguments next to each other just to fit a boy-girl, boy-girl seating arrangement.
- Figure out how many guests will be attending. If several children will be in attendance, consider having a children's table. If you would like the children at the main table, consider booster chairs if the children are small.
- Determine where everyone should sit. For convenience, the cook may want to sit near the kitchen door. Parents should sit next to their children. If there is a male guest, he is traditionally seated on the hostess's right. A female guest is traditionally seated on the host's right. For large parties, determine who would interact best with each other. Some people like to alternate between men and women, but this isn't necessary. You may want to use name cards to avoid everyone rushing for a seat at the last minute.
- Decide if you will use a tablecloth. If the tablecloth is white damask, you will need a pad under it to prevent it from slipping. Also, the middle crease should be arranged so that it runs in a straight and unwavering line down the center of the table from head to foot. When the tablecloth is on, it should hang down about a foot and a half if it is a seated dinner. If it is a buffet dinner, it should hang down to the floor.
- Set the table once you've adjusted the tablecloth. Begin by folding napkins and placing them in the center of each diner's place.
- Place the large dinner fork to the left of the napkin and the smaller salad fork to the left of the dinner fork.
- Place a salad plate to the left of the forks. The dinner plate should not be on the table when guests sit down.
- Place a knife to the right of the napkin, with the cutting edge toward the plate. For chicken or a game bird, you might want to use a steak knife.
- Put out two spoons if you're serving both soup and dessert. The small dessert spoon should be placed to the right of the knife. Place the soup spoon to the right of the dessert spoon. (You can also wait and bring the dessert spoons out just before dessert.)
- Place a bread plate with a butter knife (if you have them) about 2 inches above the forks.
- Place a water goblet about 2 inches above the knife. To the right of the goblet and slightly closer to the dinner guest, place a wine glass.
- Place a cup and saucer, if you're serving coffee or tea, to the right of the setting, with a coffee spoon on the right side of the saucer.