When it comes to setting the table, there is often confusion as to what goes where and the "proper" way to do things. A quick search for "how to set a table" on the internet can sometimes further complicate matters, as everyone seems to say something different, depending on the level of formality/ettiquette within the article.
At HWTM, our advice is to not get hung up on too many rules, and instead follow the general guideline of: forks and bread plates on the left; spoons, knives and glassware on the right. Chargers and dinnerware are front and center, of course - and the amount of dishes you use should be determined by the amount of courses and types of food you're serving (and maybe the amount of dishes you're prepared to scrub later!). Here are a few details to help you sort things out:
Charger plates are an easy way to instantly dress up the table for both formal and casual meals! They are typically meant to act as a place holder for the dinner plate and removed after the salad course during formal meals, but they work great even at more casual occasions.
Inexpensive silver and gold charger plates are a great entertaining staple to stock up on; try Charter Club's Platinum Charger Plates ($9.99/set of 4 at Macy's).
Place settings should be set & layered in the same fashion that the meal is served: soup bowls or salad plates on top of dinner plates, and dinner plates on top of charger plates. Always include a separate salad plate if your menu features dishes with a sauce.
Bread-and-butter plates should go to the upper-left of the plates, above the forks.
Serving more guests than the amount of plates you own? Mixing and matching different dinnerware is fine! Just make sure the overall look is cohesive. For example, mix in solid white or red dinnerware with a set of patterned red & white dishes to make them stretch farther: use the patterned salad plates on solid white plates, and basic white salad plates on top of the patterned dinner plates.
Pictured above, clockwise from upper left: Mikasa "Pure Red" Dinnerware Collection; Bernardaud "Digital" Dinnerware Collection; Martha Stewart "Montmartre" Dinnerware Collection; and Fiesta 16-pc. Dinnerware Set, Red.
The salad and dinner forks should be placed to the left of the plate and knives and spoons to the right. The general rule is to "work from the outside in", so the salad fork should go to the left of the dinner fork, and the spoon to the right of the knife.
Make sure to always keep the blade of the knife pointing in towards the plate.
If you're using more than one spoon, such as a soup spoon and a teaspoon, the teaspoon can be placed horizontally at the top of the plate.
Space all flatware about .5" apart from each other.
Oneida "Satin Aquarius" 5-Piece Place Setting
$41.99 / 5-pc. set
At formal dinner tables, water goblets should be placed above the tip of the knife, with red and white wine glasses clustered a little further back.
For festive occasions that are dressy but not super formall, it's fine to use tumblers in place of water goblets.
Martha Stewart Collection "Waterman" Glassware
$21.99 / set of 4
Table linens offer a great opportunity to incorporate a pop of color and creativity!
One of the most common ways to display napkins is a simple rectangular fold, either set directly under the knife and spoon to the right of the plates or displayed in the very center of the place setting and topped with a place card or decorative accent. However, there are multitudes of ways to get even more creative with napkin folds - check out this online tutorial on 12 different folds, or look for ideas in books like The Simple Art of Napkin Folding: 94 Fancy Folds for Every Tabletop Occasion.
Fair Winds Trading Rwanda "Village" Napkins
$20 / Set of 4