Restaurant Table Setting Best Practices

Restaurant Table Setting
Restaurant table settings can be basic, formal, or casual. The basic setting is common in family restaurants and casual events. The formal setting is popular in black-tie weddings and formal events. While the casual setting is a popular choice for luncheons and banquets.

Basic Table Setting

Every type of restaurant or informal gathering can use a basic setting. The basic setting includes a serving plate, napkin, fork, knife, spoon, and a coffee cup or water glass.

basic restaurant table setting
Basic restaurant table setting

To create a basic table setting, follow these instructions:

  • At the center of the dinner table, place a serving plate.
  • Place a napkin on the left side of the plate.
  • Place a knife on the right of the plate with the blade pointing in. 
  • Place the spoon after the knife.
  • Adding a water or coffee cup above and to the right of the knife is optional.

Geometrically space all items and balance the bottoms of the knife, fork, spoon, and plate. If using placemats, place them on the table and ensure they’re in front of the chair. Placemats are ideal for settings where children are present.

Common Mistakes 

  • Placing the cutlery in the wrong order: The cutlery should be placed in the order of use from outside in. 
  • Incorrect placement of the glasses: The water glass should be placed directly above the knife and the wine glass should be to the right of the water glass.
  • Inadequate spacing: Each place setting should have enough space for the guest to eat comfortably. A good rule of thumb is to leave at least 24 inches of table space per guest.
  • Incorrect napkin placement: Always set the napkin on the plate’s left side or at the center.

Further reading: 8 Napkin Etiquette Rules & Tips

Formal Table Setting

As the name suggests, this restaurant table setting is for a formal or special occasion such as a dinner party, wedding, or holiday gathering. It’s ideal for a six-course meal that includes an appetizer.

formal restaurant table setting
Formal restaurant table setting

Here are some general guidelines for a formal setting:

  • Start with a cloth that complements your event’s overall theme and color scheme.
  • Place the charger (a decorative base plate that remains on the table throughout the meal) in the center of each place setting.
  • Place the dinner plate on top of the charger plate.
  • Place the napkin to the left of the dinner plate, followed by the salad fork and dinner fork closest to the plate.
  • To the right of the dinner plate, place the dinner knife with the blade facing towards the plate, followed by the teaspoon and soup spoon.
  • Set a water glass above the dinner knife.
  • Above the water glass to the right side, place the wine glass or glass for any other beverage.
  • Dessert spoons should be above the charger with its handle pointing to the right.
  • The butter knife should be horizontal, with the blade facing inward on top of the bread plate.
  • Place all the vertical flatware evenly.
  • You can add a few decorative elements, such as place cards and candles, to enhance the overall ambiance of the setting.

Common Mistakes 

  • Using the wrong utensils: Each course has its own utensils, and it is essential to use them correctly. 
  • Overcrowding the table:  Avoid putting too many decorations or food on the table.
  • Using the wrong glasses: Use the right glasses for the drinks you will serve.
  • Improper placement of napkins:  Avoid placing the napkin on the plate or under the utensils.
  • Incorrect placement of plates: The main plate should be at the center of each setting. 
  • Not using a table cover: A tablecloth is essential to a formal setting. It adds elegance and sophistication to the table.

Casual Table Setting 

This table setting is a simple and informal arrangement of tableware used for everyday meals and relaxed gatherings with friends and family.

casual restaurant table setting
Casual restaurant table setting

A casual setting typically includes the following items:

  • Lay a placemat on the dining table.
  • Place the dinner or serving in the middle of the placemat.
  • A cloth or paper napkin stays to the left of the plate.
  • To the left of the plate near the napkin is the dinner fork near the plate, followed by the salad fork.
  • Place the knife to the right of the plate, with the blade facing the plate.
  • Set the spoon to the right of the knife.
  • Set the drinking glass above the knife.
  • Place the wine or juice glass after the water glass to the right. If you’ll serve white and red wine, place the red wine glass to the right of the white wine glass.
  • Bread plate and butter knife (optional): If you’ll serve bread, place a small bread plate and butter knife above the forks.
  • Place the dessert fork and spoon above the dinner or charger plate if you’ll serve dessert. The fork should be closer to the plate, followed by the spoon. The spoon’s handle should face right, and the fork’s handle left. If you wish to place them beside the plate, the spoon goes to the right after the dinner knife and the fork to the left close to the plate.

Common Mistakes 

  • Incorrect placement of utensils: The basic rule is to place the forks, knives, and spoons in the order the guests will use them; from the outside. 
  • Overcrowding: Keep it simple and only set out what you need for the meal.
  • Incorrect placement of napkins: Napkins should be placed on the left side of the plate or on the center.
  • Inappropriate glassware: Choose appropriate glassware for the type of drink you’ll serve.
  • Improper placement of dishes: Set dishes in the center of the placemat or table setting. Ensure the dishes are evenly spaced and aligned with the table edge.
  • Inappropriate table cover: Choose an appropriate tablecloth that complements the decor and style of the room. 
  • Missing essential items: Include basic items such as salt and pepper shakers, butter knives, and serving utensils.

Tablecloth Best Practices

Here are some best practices for using and caring for table covers:

  • Choose the right size: Make sure to choose the right size for your table. Ideally, the cloth should hang down about 8-12 inches on all sides.
  • Protect your table: Use a liner or protective padding underneath the cloth to prevent scratches, dents, and other damage to your table.
  • Choose the right fabric: Consider the occasion and the level of formality when selecting the fabric. Cotton and linen are suitable for everyday use, while silk and damask are more appropriate for formal occasions.
  • Iron or steam the tablecloth: Iron or steam the cover before use to achieve a crisp, polished look.
  • Store the cloth properly: When not in use, fold it neatly and store it in a cool, dry place to prevent wrinkles and damage.
  • Clean spills promptly: If a spill occurs, clean it up as soon as possible to prevent staining.
  • Wash with care: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing and drying. Some fabrics may require special care, such as dry cleaning.

Centerpiece Best Practices

A centerpiece is a decorative element placed in the center of a table or space to create a focal point and enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of the room or setting. 

Here are some best practices for creating a beautiful and effective centerpiece:

  • Consider the occasion: Choose what is appropriate for the occasion. For example, a large floral arrangement might be perfect for a wedding or formal dinner, but a simple bowl of fruit might be more suitable for a casual brunch.
  • Choose the right size: The size should be proportional to your table or space size. A large, elaborate piece might overwhelm a small table, while a tiny arrangement might look lost on a large one.
  • Use high-quality materials: Whether using flowers, candles, or other decorative elements, make sure they are high-quality and well-made. Cheap materials can look tacky and detract from the overall effect.
  • Pay attention to color and texture: The colors and textures should complement the rest of the room or table setting. Consider the colors of the dishes and other decors when choosing your centerpiece.
  • Vary the height: Varying the height can add interest and dimension to the table. Consider using tall vases or candlesticks alongside shorter elements to create a visually interesting display.
  • Keep it simple: Sometimes, less is more. A simple vase of fresh flowers or a fruit bowl can be just as effective as a more elaborate arrangement.
  • Don’t forget about scent: Scented candles or fresh flowers can add a delightful fragrance to your centerpiece, enhancing the room’s overall ambiance.

Do’s and Dont’s

Correct table setting and configuration may play a major role in maximizing customer spending and overall revenue.

So as a restaurant operator, ensure not to commit a basic faux pas. Here’s a summary of do’s and don’ts:

Do’s ✅Don’ts ❌
Ensure all the utensils are clean and polished, free from any spots or stains.Place cutlery in the wrong order.
Arrange the seating plan so that guests are comfortable, with enough space between them to move around the table.Clutter the table surface with items that are not being used. 
Keep the table setting clean and organized throughout the meal.Mix the settings for different occasions.


Tabitha is a curious and enthusiastic writer who believes in the power of words and the importance of good manners. Etiquette is her passion, and she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with her family.

Recent Posts