There is little worse than getting to a formal event and realizing that you have absolutely no clue of what you are supposed to do, and when you are expected to do it. There is so much pomp and circumstance surrounding some events that rather than having a delightful time, you find yourself stressed and nervous throughout your time there. Being aware of how formal place settings work and what piece of the setting is used for which part of the meal is one of the essentials of attending formal events and saving yourself some measure of embarrassment.

First of all, the formal table will not, most likely, look like your table does at dinnertime in your own dining room. There is much more to it and therein lies the confusion for most people. The following are the typical pieces that you will see at the formal table:
*Water Glass
*Wine Glass
*Bread Plate
*Bread Knife
*Soup Bowl
*Soup Spoon
*Dinner Plate
*Salad Plate
*Salad Fork
*Dinner Fork
*Dinner Knife
*Dessert Spoon
*Coffee Cup

Now, that all sounds a bit overwhelming at first, but it isn’t really as difficult to avoid a formal faux pas as you might think. Some of these items will be very obvious. Of course, you will know what to do with the napkin and which piece of the setting it is. You will recognize the coffee cup with the saucer beneath it. A bread knife is fairly obvious. As for the rest, it, here goes.

Water and wine glasses are distinguished because the water glass will not be stemmed. The wine glass will have the stem and goblet and will be placed directly above the coffee cup.

The plates will be arranged with the dinner plate in the center of the setting. This will also be the largest plate. The salad plate will be the small plate at the left side of the setting and the bread plate will be beside it and slightly higher. The bread plate will usually have the bread knife placed on top of it, so this will give you a clue, as well.

Your soup bowl should be placed atop the dinner plate and since it is the only bowl in the setting, you should have no trouble with this.

The silverware will be arranged in the following manner: On the left of your plate will be the forks, first the salad fork and then the dinner fork. The salad fork will be the smaller of the two. To the right of your plate will be your dinner knife and soup spoon. The dessert spoon will be the smaller spoon that is above the dinner plate. As stated previously, the bread knife will be on the bread plate.

With all of that information, you should do fine at any formal dinner event and save yourself the embarrassment of making a social faux pas. Now, you only need to learn what all those fancy food names “really” mean and you’ll be a step ahead!


  1. Table setting
  2. Foods Combining Diet
  3. Table Setting Guides – The Emily Post Institute, Inc.

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