Setting a table doesn’t always have to be a formal affair. It’s straightforward to set a casual table, and doing so prevents you from slipping into the habit of eating from your lap every day. Casual table setting doesn’t take any more than five minutes, enabling you to maintain a sense of style without being too formal. Another benefit is that once you understand the basics of how to set a table properly, it’s easy to take it to the next level for the times when you need to create a more formal table setting. Whether you’re having a family meal in the evening, or it’s just you and your partner sitting down for lunch, our guide to how to set a casual table will ensure that whatever your occasion, you don’t need to sacrifice your sense of style.
Table setting rules
‘Rules’ is perhaps too strong a term to apply when referring to casual table settings, however there are some guidelines and table setting etiquette which makes sense to incorporate when learning the proper way to set a table. As mentioned earlier, these pointers can then be applied if you ever need to set a more formal table in the future.
Firstly, a simple way to add some class to a casual table setting is with some table linen: a beautiful French tablecloth or a French table runner is a great way to do this. (Just because it’s casual doesn’t mean it has to be plain.) Although not required at a casual table, a tablecloth can really bring your setting to life and will enhance the overall look of your table straight away.
Another thing to consider is a centrepiece for the table - again, this doesn’t have to be complicated - just something simple and elegant to act as a focal point for the table. A vase, candleholders, even something as simple as an unusual salt and pepper shaker set can give your casual table setting some focus, without expending any effort.
A placemat should be used, whether or not you have opted for table linen. It helps to give the table a sense of structure (as well as protecting it from hot plates and dishes). The dinner plate should not be placed on the mat before the guests sit down, but should be brought to the table when dinner is ready to be served.
Proper silverware setting
In an informal setting, there is still a proper way to set table silverware. It is all laid out before the meal using the ‘outside-in’ rule: this piece of silverware etiquette states that you start your first course using the cutlery furthest away from the plate, and the last pieces to be used are the ones directly next to the plate you are eating from.
What side does the fork go on?
The fork (or forks) are placed to the left of the plate. Which fork to use? The outside fork is used first (adhering to the ‘outside-in’ rule) with the fork next to the plate being used for dinner. In America and Britain, the fork tines face upwards, while the Continental style has them placed downwards.
Salad fork vs dinner fork
The salad and dinner forks are different implements - if you are not sure which is the salad fork vs the dinner fork, here are the differences:
Salad fork: this is typically an inch or so shorter, with broader tines (sometimes with one thicker outer tine), and is used for cutting vegetables and leaves.
Dinner fork: normally has 4 even sized tines and is the biggest one on the table. It has a corresponding knife on the right side of the plate.
Table setting: knife blade in or out?
The dinner knife is placed to the right side, with the blade facing the plate. Depending on the main course, the dinner knife may be replaced with a steak knife.
Where does the dessert fork go?
The dessert fork placement for an informal meal is above the dinner plate, horizontally, with the handle facing to the left. If you are also using a dessert spoon, this is laid above the fork, with the handle facing right.
What side does the napkin go on?
Napkins are an essential part of the table setting, even for an informal or casual meal, and people are often unsure what side of the plate the napkin goes on, which is the left hand side. (As an alternative, some hosts do leave the napkin on the empty plate before dinner is served.) The dinner fork can be placed on the napkin. Napkin rings can be used but these are normally for a more formal setting so are not required; in a casual setting it is sufficient to fold them in half, ready for guests. There are a plethora of ways to fold a napkin if you feel like being more creative
Where does the salad plate go?
As we’re discussing the options for a casual table, if you’re not having a salad, there’s no need for a salad plate: simplicity is key and we don’t want lots of additional elements that aren’t going to be used. If your meal does include a salad, then the plate is placed to the left of the forks.
Where does the bread plate go?
Bread plates, when used at a casual table, are placed above the forks, on the diner’s left side. The bread knife lies across the bread plate.
What side do the wine and water glasses go on?
The water glass is positioned to the right of the plate. There is usually one wine glass, which is set on the right of the water glass.
Your own casual table setting may incorporate all of the above elements, or only a selection of them. You now have all the information you need to set a table properly, and once you’ve gone through the process a couple of times you’ll be surprised at how little time it takes, but how all the small touches come together to really enhance your dining experience. Now sit back, relax and enjoy your food!