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How to Set a Formal Dining Table

Setting a formal dining table with your cutlery and crockery in the correct order can seem like a daunting task, but it's actually a very straightforward skill that anyone can master. Best of all, you can use a traditional style but add your own individual flair with creative themes, colours, and centrepieces. Let's take a look at the four steps required to create your own formal dining setting.

1. The right dining table and chairs

If you love holding regular dinner parties, the first things you need to consider are the dining table and chairs. Extension tables are ideal for six or more guests with the leaves folding back under the table again when your guests depart. Timber dining tables add warmth and character to your table settings, and fabric or rattan chairs can lend originality and a personal touch.

When you're choosing the size of your dining table, make sure guests will have enough room to pull out their chairs without knocking into anything, and that they can comfortably walk behind a person who is already seated.

2. Select your theme

Choose colours, decorations, table coverings, and centrepieces to suit the occasion. For example, a formal winter dinner party might lend itself to a table runner in a rich, warm hue like red with matching placemats and topped with a centrepiece of several burning pillar candles of varying heights on a mirror tray to create ambience.

Courtesy of Inspired By This.

3. Arrange your plates and utensils

Set a charger, which is a large plate for holding the first course, on the table in front of each chair, keeping in mind that the rule for formal dining is that everything needs to be centred and spaced at equal distances. You can place a cloth napkin with a napkin ring on each plate if you want to be really fancy, matching it with your colour theme, or place a salad plate in the middle of the charger, or both. Next, arrange your silverware with the forks on the left. The rule of thumb here is that diners work from the outside in, so put the dinner fork closest to the plate, the salad fork next to it and the entrée fork next to that. On the right, place the dinner knife closest to the plate, with the blade turned in, and the soup spoon on the outside of it.

Individual bread plates sit above the dinner fork, with a butter knife diagonally across the plate. Arrange glasses from small to large, inside to outside, above the dinner knife. For example, a water glass will be above the dinner knife, a wine glass next to that and a sherry or dessert wine glass on the outside. 

Dessert forks and spoons are generally present on the dessert plate when it's served. If you're using a variation of cutlery, including fish forks or knives, follow the same rules as above and place them so they correspond with the order of the menu.

Courtesy of CG Public House and Catering

4. Take a step back and check

Once you've finished arranging your formal dining table and chairs, take a step back to look at the overall appearance, making sure everything looks geometrical. If you've chosen candles next to, or as part of, your centrepiece, light them when your guests enter the roomand voila! You're ready to enjoy your formal dinner party!