How to Set a Table: Basic, Casual, and Formal Table Settings

By Steven Bertoni | December 28, 2021

Unless you grew up in a formal household or had a caretaker who was passionate about table manners, you probably have very little idea how to properly set a table. Most of us grew up either eating meals on tv trays or using only one plate and very limited flatware at every meal. 

Whether you’re planning for a wedding reception, formal dinner, or just a fun brunch with your friends, learning how to properly set a table is a little-known skill that can really give you street cred with your friends and impress family members (we’re looking at you, future mother-in-law). 

Before you begin, you should make sure your dining space is in order. Regardless of your event, your dining space should be clean, well-styled, and able to comfortably fit all your guests. If your dining room set is in need of an update, Modloft can help. 

Our team of designers has created an entire collection of unique, contemporary dining tables and chairs that can give your dining room an air of sophistication and class. You might be a t-shirt and jeans person, but your dining room can make you feel like a royal. 

Once you know your dining room is fab, you can work on getting those place settings prepared. Here’s what you should know about setting a table from basic to extraordinary. 

Table Setting Basics

Setting a table requires you to lay out dishes, flatware, and some glassware prior to eating your meal. Every place setting requires a few basics. 

Once you’ve mastered these basics, you’re ready to begin learning your settings

Setting the Basic Table

A basic table setting is the most usable table setting available. It’s perfect for weekday dinners, breakfast, or even a very casual brunch. A basic table setting uses pieces that you are most likely familiar with already, and most closely resembles the table settings (if any) you grew up with. Here are the components and how-tos of a basic table setting.

Basic Table Setting Components

To set a basic table, you will need:

Basic Table Setting

A basic table setting begins with a placemat. It can be oval or rectangular, although round mats are usually considered more formal. When you’ve placed your mat on the table, you can begin the place setting.

Setting the Casual Table

Casual table settings are a step above basic. Think of the casual table setting as the dining equivalent of business casual attire; slightly more formal than denim, much less formal than black tie. 

Casual Table Setting Components

To set a casual dining table, you will need:

Casual Table Setting

You’ll notice you now have a few more pieces to add to your table setting. Soup bowls, salad plates, and wine glasses are now included, and you’ll need to make sure your placemats are large enough to accommodate these items. 

Setting the Formal Table

The formal dinner table looks complicated, but once you master the technique, you can set it with rapid speed. A formal table always has a tablecloth. A placemat is not necessary, and it is almost impossible to set an entire formal place setting on a single placemat. 

Formal Table Setting Components

Formal Table Setting

For the formal table, we’ve added several additional parts, the most notable of which is the charger. A charger looks like a large plate but never holds food. Chargers “hold the place” for your dinner plate after each course. 

You’ll also note that we’ve removed the dinner plate and salad plates from the list. Although they will still be used for a formal dinner, they aren’t used in the initial place setting. For the formal table, you’ll remove the dish currently on the charger after each course instead of stacking the dishes atop one another as you do with the casual place setting. 

Begin by ensuring your tablecloth is pressed and spread neatly on your table. 

Tips and Tricks

Now that you’ve mastered table setting 101, here are a few tips and tricks to help you get it right every time. 

Setting any table will be a breeze once you’ve practiced a few times, and you’re sure to impress your friends (and likely, yourself) with your new skill.



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