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How to Set Your Table for the Holidays

You’ve invited your guests, planned the menu, crafted your centerpiece and decorated your home. Just as the scent of turkey begins wafting through your house, you turn to the dining room table: time to arrange the place settings! And suddenly, your mind goes blank.

Does the fork go on the right or the left? Should the napkin be under the silverware or placed on top of the plate? And what about those tricky dishes you never use except for on holidays, like a salad fork and champagne flute?

If you’ve ever faced those questions, you’re not alone! Below I’ve outlined the traditional way to arrange a formal table for the holidays so that your settings will be flawless:

An image of an elegant dining room table set with from dinnerware.

The Basics

The easiest way to remember how a basic table setting works is by using a mnemonic trick created by author and etiquette expert Emily Post. Just think of the word FORKS. From left to right, this will guide you through arranging one setting.

Start with your fork (F) on the left. Then you have your plate (represented by the letter O) which is centered in the middle of each setting. Ignore the letter R. Next comes your knife (K) with the blade pointed inward and lastly your spoon (S). And there you have it!

An image of a formal place setting.

One example of a formal place setting. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Additional Silverware

If you’re serving multiple courses, then you’ll want appropriate silverware for each dish. Some examples include a salad fork, soup spoon and oyster fork. These are placed in the order that they are used (with forks still on the left, knives on the right and spoons on the far right).

The utensils that are required first should be placed on the outermost edge of either side. This allows your guests to work their way inward. To keep everything crisp, the bottom of each piece of silverware should be lined up with the next in a straight line.

Some exceptions include the dessert silverware which can be arranged horizontally above the plate. Also, the bread dish and butter knife should be placed to the upper left of your place setting. Lay the butter knife horizontally across the bread plate with the blade pointed down.

A picture of a table decorated for Christmas.

Glasses and Napkins

Cups are also set out in the order that they are used. Place them in a row to the upper right of each plate. If you’re serving various types of wine or giving a toast, then you’ll want a separate glass for each drink.

Napkins can be placed to the left of the forks or on top of the plate. You can fold them in a standard rectangle or you can get as creative as you want.

An image of a half full glass of wine on a table.

The Final Setting

To wrap it all up, just remember your handy mnemonic device (FORKS) and that utensils should be set out in the order that they are used. Remembering those things alone will help you create an elegant and organized table.

An image of a table with festive place settings.

For some helpful diagrams and more details, take a look at these additional articles:


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