How To Set The Table For Any Occasion

by | Mar 23, 2021 | How To | 0 comments

There are many different types of table settings; which one you opt for all depends on the occasion. 

Ensuring the table is set up correctly to meet the requirements of the upcoming function is not only practical but can also add to the ambience and communicate the style of dinner meal that’s been planned. 

With so many different functions and suitable table settings to consider, it may seem like a difficult skill to master, which is why we’ve pulled together our guide on how to set the table to suit any occasion.


How To Lay The Table In The UK – Basic Rules

The art of table setting is actually really simple once you understand a few of the basics. 

Start with creating a space for each person attending the dinner. Before you even touch the cutlery or plates, make sure you’ve positioned the chairs around the table and ensure they’re evenly spaced. 

The table setting itself can be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be. Generally, placemats are used alone at informal events, such as a family midweek dinner or casual dinner parties,  and tablecloths are used when the event is more formal. There’s no rule to say they can’t be used together but they are often used separately. If you’re using placemats, they should be placed half an inch from the edge of the table. To make sure every guest has enough elbow room, allow a minimum of four inches between each placemat. 

Of course, there are three main key elements to any dinner table setting; plates, cutlery, and glasses. As diners, we use cutlery from the outside of the setting and work inwards, so you should set the cutlery accordingly. Forks are always set to the left of the plate and knives and spoons are set to the left. 

Your dinner knife is also a great indicator for placing your glasses. Your water glass should be placed directly above it in your table setting with any other glasses being placed to its right. Glasses should always be placed largest to smallest, from back to front.

Place Setting In The UK

Image by Greystone Table via Pinterest

How To Set The Table For Breakfast

It’s not often that you’ll set the table for breakfast, but it’s a great way to make breakfast feel special, especially if you’re celebrating an occasion or even hosting guests. 

Similar to setting the table for a dinner, you’ll need a diner plate along with a fork, knife and dessert spoon. However, remember to also add a bread plate and butter knife, so people can butter toast or place their pastries or muffins. If you’re serving cereal or perhaps fresh fruit and yoghurt, add a bowl to each place setting too. 

As breakfast tends to be a more informal occasion, or if you plan on having lots of guests over, you may want to put breakfast items in the middle of the table so people can help themselves. If this is the case, you’ll also need to remember serving spoons and dishes. 

Don’t forget mugs or cups and saucers are important if you’re serving your guests tea or coffee. If prosecco, or bucks fizz, is being served then the presence of champagne glasses on the table will be needed too.

Dinner ware for breakfast

Image by via Pinterest

Breakfast Table Setting Ideas

Breakfast for two 

When it comes to a casual breakfast table set up, keeping it simple is a great approach. The layered plates with the bowl on top and the use of linen napkins and wicker-style placemats make it feel like an extra special breakfast. A great way to brighten up any table setting is by adding a vase full of beautiful flowers. 

Breakfast for Two

Image by Rosemary & Thyme via Pinterest


Buffet-style breakfast

This is a great example of how to make breakfast into more of an occasion. We love the use of a beautiful table runner for the place settings, rather than a traditional table cloth. Having plates of food in the middle of the table makes it easier for people to help themselves, and the individual pots of jam and soft cheese are a lovely added touch.

Buffet Style Breakfast Placement Settings

Image by Marie Sacré via Pinterest

Casual breakfast layout 

We love this casual breakfast spread. This is perfect if you want to make your normal breakfast set-up a little bit exciting, whilst still keeping it laid back. However, if you were to invite guests over, a placemat or table cloth, additional tableware such as a side plate and/or bowl would be recommended.

Casual Breakfast Layout

Image by Ann via Pinterest

How To Set The Table For Lunch

Lunch is similar to breakfast in terms of plateware, but different in the type of glasses and cutlery used. 

Often associated to be a more informal occasion, lunch can also be a more formal affair with the right accessories. By choosing a heavier, more luxurious style of cutlery and laying them out following the basic etiquette tips shared earlier, the experience immediately feels more special. 

For lunch around the table, remember coffee and tea isn’t typically served. Instead, include wine glasses, both red and white, as well as normal glasses for those who just want a soft drink or water. 

Salad or soup is a popular choice when it comes to lunch, as food options tend to be a lot lighter than dinner. It’s important to include the correct plateware to cater for this, as well as the correct cutlery including salad knife and fork and soup spoon. If serving a spoon, consider also adding a bread plate and butter knife. 

Generally, lunch tends to be slightly more relaxed than dinner parties so similar to breakfast, you can also opt for serving your food in a buffet style. Just remember to make sure there are plenty of serving spoons! 

How to set a table for Lunch

Image by Stylizimo via Pinterest

Lunch Table Setting Ideas

Light lunch

We love this casual lunch set up. The table has a very simple layout but includes a placemat with the correct cutlery and glasses – perfect for a light lunch with friends. Some added table decorations such as a vase with flowers and candles, or even a table runner could be added to make it feel a little bit more special.

Light Lunch Dining Table Setup

Image by Elrene via Pinterest


Formal lunch occasion

This table set up is simply stunning. We love the centrepiece vase filled with flowers that match the neutral colour theme, and the statement gold and black cutlery. No table cloth has been used here which keeps the vibe casual, despite the table being dressed beautifully. We would just add wine glasses and perhaps a side plate for any bread, but a great example of what a table could look like for a special lunch party with friends.

Formal Lunch Occasion Dining Table Set Up

Image by Cyd Converse via Pinterest

Extra-special lunch 

This is a brilliant example of how to make lunch an extra special occasion. We love the use of wicker for the decorative plates and napkin holders, with the complimentary rose gold cutlery.

Extra Special Lunch Dining Table Setup

Image by Designthusiasm via Pinterest

How To Set The Table For Dinner – Casual

Dinner parties are, by nature, more formal than breakfast or lunch. However, sometimes you might have people over for dinner and want to set the table but still keep it quite informal. 

Laid-back dinner parties follow a similar mindset to breakfast table settings, where less is often more. Rather than serving each guest, you may decide to place the food items in the middle of the table so everyone can serve themselves. If this is the case, you can still make sure the table is set correctly with the required plates, cutlery and glasses. And at any dinner party, casual or formal, you’ll want wine glasses on the table, as well as a water jug and glasses. 

Depending on what food is being served will impact what plates you put on the table. As a general rule of thumb, the salad plate is the smallest, and the dinner plate is the largest. You may want to set a bread plate with a butter knife if you’re offering your guests bread with their meal. 

A great way to give your table setting the wow factor for any dinner party is to include a statement centrepiece. This could be a beautiful vase of flowers, some statement candles or even foliage. 

How To Set The Table For Dinner - Casual

Image by ELLE via Pinterest

Dinner Table Setting Ideas

Cosy and casual 

This is a perfect example of how to set your table for a casual dinner party. The table has been set for a special occasion, yet it still feels cosy and laid back. The candles and foliage make a beautiful centrepiece, whilst the placemats and layout of the cutlery and napkins make it feel like extra effort has been made – the perfect combination for a casual dinner with friends.

Cosy and Casual Dining Table Setup

Image by Hip and Humble Style via Pinterest

Laid back dinner party

We love the use of the table runner here to make a style statement. The table has been laid with all the correct plateware, cutlery and glasses for a dinner party, but it still feels laid-back and relaxed. The serving dishes have been placed in the middle of the table so guests can serve themselves, but its clear effort has gone into setting the table.

Laid Back Dining Table Setup

Image by John Lewis via Pinterest

Simple yet classy 

This simple yet classy table setting is perfect for a casual dinner party. The simple place settings contrasted to the statement centrepiece, still give that casual vibe. Candles are a great way of adding the wow factor to any table setting.

Simple yet Classy Dining Table Setup

Image by DIYDarlin via Pinterest

How To Set The Table For Dinner – Formal (3 Course meals/dinner parties)

When it comes to entertaining, nothing will impress your guests more than a beautifully set dining table. It can add to the ambience of the evening and sets the tone for the night you have planned. It can seem quite daunting to go all out, especially if you don’t know what utensils go where or what needs to be on each place setting to suit a three-course meal. Nonetheless, even if you don’t have a dinner party or special occasion that calls for setting a formal table, learning how to do it is a great skill to have – and you never know when it will come in handy. 

Many people opt for a formal table setting for dinner parties, in particular where three-course meals will be served. One of the most important things to consider is having the correct cutlery placements, so your guests have all the right utensils for each course. As a general rule of thumb, you can follow utensil placement in order from the furthest from the plate and work your way inward. The dinner fork goes to the left of the dinner plate and the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork. Place the dinner knife to the right of the dinner plate, the appetizer or salad knife to the right of the dinner fork followed by a soup spoon. The dessert spoon should then be placed horizontally above the dinner plate. It’s important to remember that the dishes being served will impact what cutlery is required, for example, if the starter requires a knife and fork,  you won’t need to set down a soup spoon.

Formal 3 Course Dining Table Setup

Image by chowhound via Pinterest

Once you have nailed the cutlery placements, you will then want to consider the aesthetic of the table. No formal dinner table is complete without some gorgeous table linen. This could be a table cloth that covers the entire table, or a table runner for a modern touch. And don’t forget to add napkins – you don’t want your guests having to ask for a napkin, it should already be on the table when they arrive. Generally, napkins should be placed to the left of the forks to allow each diner to easily place napkins on their lap. Another great option is to place the napkin, with a napkin ring, on top of the place settings. 

Table Linen for Dining Table Setup

Image by bocadolobo via Pinterest

When it comes to adding a decorative touch to your formal dinner table, consider using a decorative charger plate. Growing increasingly popular, a charger plate is an elegant and underused element of a place setting – it’s essentially a resting place onto which food-bearing dishes and bowls are placed. As no food actually touches the charger plate, they are purely aesthetic, they can be made out of a wide range of materials from wood to glass and metal, and is another great way to add interest to your table setting.

Table place setting formal

Photo credit: Pinterest @HomewithHollyJ


If you’re having more than four guests for dinner, also consider creating a seating plan in advance. Place cards with each guest’s name to indicate where each person is sitting is a lovely personal touch.

Place Cards Dining Table Setup

Photo credit: Pinterest @KD&J Botanica


To really elevate the table setting, provide guests with individual salt and pepper shakers and individual butter dishes. This is optional of course but saves people waiting for the butter to be passed around, or having to ask for someone to hand them the salt and pepper.

How To Set The Table For A Buffet Layout

If you’re having guests over and decide to opt for a buffet, the table setting becomes more of a display of food than a place to eat.

How you set the table for a buffet all depends on whether your guests will be seated around the table or whether they’ll be standing. If guests are to be seated, less emphasis should be on the placemats and table settings, and more emphasis on the food. 

The amount of food and tableware all depends on the size of the event – if you have more than a dozen guests, it’s likely the whole table will be filled. If you’re expecting fewer guests, you should be able to fit the plates on the same table as the food. 

Be sure to include serving utensils for every single item on the table – there’s no point in having plates of beautiful food on the table if guests can’t serve themselves. And you don’t want guests using their individual forks or spoons to help themselves to the food. 

Buffet Layout Ideas

This photo is certainly buffet goals. We love how the food is presented, with the plates stacked up and the cutlery on the side available for guests to help themselves. The food does take up a lot of the room and so this layout isn’t advised if guests will also be sat around the table.

Buffet Layout Ideas Dining Table Setup

Photo credit: Pinterest @WorthingCourt

Even though this isn’t a traditional dinner party layout, we love how attention has been given to creating a beautiful centrepiece. By putting the plates on a console table, it leaves more room for the food on the table without it looking overcrowded.

Buffet Style Dining Table Layout

Photo credit: Pinterest @popsugar



There’s no denying there is an increasing trend for grazing style platters. This is a great way to incorporate the buffet-style dining, whilst having your guests all sit around the table – definitely something to consider if you’re after a show-stopping dinner set up.

Buffet Style Dining Table Layout Food Platters

Photo credit: Pinterest @graziadaily

Other FAQs

What are the 5 basic types of table setup?

There are five basic types of table setup, which one you opt for depends on the type of dinner setting you’re trying to create

  1. Formal table setting – this is ideal for special occasions or when you’re entertaining guests with a three-course meal and want to give your table the wow factor. This setting requires the most use of cutlery, plates and glasses, to ensure that every utensil for each course is provided
  2. Casual table setting – often used for more informal dinners with guests or casual dinners with family. The table set up requires fewer utensils and you have more flexibility on how you arrange them. The key to nailing the casual table setting is by adding a beautiful centrepiece in the middle of the table – think beautiful flowers or statement candles
  3. Buffet table setting – we’ve all been to a party at some point in our lives where a buffet has been served. This is perfect for those who like to serve themselves, especially for any guests that are fussy with their food. Ensure each dish or plate of food has its own serving spoon so guests don’t use their own cutlery
  4. Breakfast table setting – generally a more casual affair, you can be creative when it comes to the breakfast table setting. Whether you want a simple breakfast of cereal with your family, or you’re hosting an elaborate brunch and want to go all out, there are endless opportunities. Ensure that each guest has a plate, bowl, the relevant cutlery as well as a mug for tea or coffee
  5. Pizzeria table setting – as many people eat pizza using their hands, a pizzeria table setting consists of the most basic utensils. Each person simply needs a plate, a knife, fork, napkin and glass. 

Why do we set the table?

Table settings are used for various reasons. If you’re having guests over, it helps set the tone for the evening, whether it’s a casual dinner party or a more formal affair. It also makes your dining area look beautiful and creates a welcoming ambience for your guests. 

You may not set the table at all times, especially if you’re alone and sitting down to eat a quick meal. However, it’s also important to use placemats to protect your dining table. Dining tables are most commonly made from wood, so this is a vital step to ensure hot plates or water marks from glasses don’t damage the table.

Which side does the napkin go on?

As a rule of thumb, the napkin goes on the left-hand side next to the fork, on the very outside. An increasingly popular trend is to now put the napkin, with a napkin holder, on the plate which is also really useful if you don’t have that much room on the table.

Why does the knife face the plate?

Knife blades face the side of the plate to ensure the knife doesn’t need to be turned around when you pick it up. The blade pointing outward may also come across as unfriendly or possibly unsafe.

Does the spoon go on the right or left?

The position of the spoon depends on what it will be used for. Soup spoons go to the right of the knife, whilst a dessert spoon sits above the plate.

What do you need to set a table?

What you need to set a table depends on the look you’re trying to achieve as well as what food is being served. For a basic table, you’ll need either a tablecloth or placemat, a plate, side plate and bowl for each guest, a knife, fork and spoon, as well as a napkin. You’ll also need glasses for each guest, including a water glass as well as wine or prosecco glass if alcohol is being served. For any table, always consider a centrepiece such as a vase of flowers or candles.

What is the point of a table runner?

A table runner is a great way to add colour, texture and interest to your table. It can also be used instead of a table cloth, with many people using a table runner and placemats instead. A table runner has the added benefit of protecting your table against any spills or damages from hot plates or drinks.

How long should a runner be on a table?

Table runners come in various sizes, to suit different styles of tables. Generally, a table runner should be long enough to overhang the end of your table by roughly 6-10 inches on each end. 

What do you put under plates?

When setting your table you can either opt for a placemat or a decorative charger plate to protect the table underneath. The placemat is often used for a more casual dinner party, whilst charger plates are perfect for those looking to achieve a certain aesthetic. 

Are placemats out of style?

Placemats are certainly not out of style. There are lots of modern placemats available on the market and you can find suitable ones to suit your decor.

Do you use placemats with a table runner?

Yes, you can absolutely use placemats with a table runner. The table runner is a lot narrower than a tablecloth, so only part of the table is protected. We would recommend you always use a placemat to protect the table underneath.

Do you put a rug under the dining room table?

Putting a rug under the dining room table is a trend that is growing in popularity. Often people with wooden or tiled floors opt for a rug under the table, to make it more comfortable particularly on bare feet. It’s also a great way to zone an area, especially for those with open plan kitchens or those who have their dining table in their living space.

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