Anatomy of a Dinner Place Setting

Creating a festive atmosphere is the key to putting on a great dinner party. Whether you’re settling in to a new home, newly engaged, or hosting a holiday party for the first time, you’re likely feeling pressed to impress—especially when it comes to setting the table. Understanding the anatomy of a dinner party table setting will help you feel prepared and confident when the big day arrives.

Plates and utensils
One of the most important pieces to get right when hosting a dinner party is the placement of plates and utensils. This is something many hostesses skip over, so being able to present a proper table setting will impress your friends and family. For a basic table setting, you’ll need the following:

  • A long-pronged dinner fork to the left of the plate
  • A butter knife to the right of the plate with the blade facing the plate
  • A spoon to the right of the knife
  • A water glass above the knife
  • If you’re hosting a more formal party with several courses to the meal, some additional pieces are needed:
  • A wine glass, if necessary, next to the water glass
  • If serving soup and/or salad, the salad plate goes atop the dinner plate, and the soup bowl sits atop the salad plate.
  • The short-pronged salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork
  • The larger soup spoon goes to the right of the dinner spoon (if there is a need for a spoon in multiple courses)

A folded cloth napkin lends an air of formality to the dinner party table. The napkin can be folded into a rectangle and placed atop the dinner plate or directly beneath the soup bowl. You can also place the napkin to the left of the fork.Don’t worry if you lack the skills to fold cloth napkins into ornate shapes—the key is to present a crisp, smooth napkin that’s free of any wrinkles. To prepare ahead, use Niagara Original Spray Starch Plus or Niagara Fabric Finish Spray Sizing and iron the day before to lock out wrinkles for that clean, polished look.

A neutral linen tablecloth will provide a solid anchor to your table for any occasion. Prior to putting the tablecloth on the dinner table, iron with starch to make the process easier and faster—simply throwing it in the dryer won’t eliminate wrinkles and your table will look disheveled. Using spray starch also sets the fabric and prevents wrinkles from creeping back in. If you feel the table looks too plain with a solid, neutral cloth, add interest with a fun table runner.

Add a placemat or charger beneath each dinner plate for a more sophisticated place setting. If you choose cloth placemats, be sure to starch and press them along with your other table linens. Spray starch also helps protect your linens from food and beverage stains so you don’t have to fret over drips and spills.

The centerpiece sets the mood and ties the whole table together. You can use flowers, candles, and/or decorative objects—just be sure that your centerpiece is not so tall that guests seated across the table have difficulty seeing one another. Avoid using fragrant flowers in the centerpiece, as these can compete with the aroma of the meal and ultimately alter its flavor.

With the right amount of preparation and attention to detail, you’ll be sure to impress at your next dinner party. Need to purchase an iron and ironing board before the big day? Read our tips on how to select the right iron and ironing board combo.