Mealtime Manners

All you need to know to set the perfect table, plan the perfect meal, and be a perfect host!

prettyily set table


Winning Table Setting Tips

A table setting should include the following items:

  • Dinnerware (plates, cups, saucers, and bowls)
  • Glassware (glasses of all shapes and sizes)
  • Flatware (forks, spoons, and knives)
  • Napkins
  • Centerpiece
  • Placemats or tablecloths (optional)

 Tips for setting a table:

  • The table should be clean; it can be left bare or a table covering can be used as the background for the food and the items may be placed on top of it. A table covering helps protect the table and muffles the noise of clanking glassware and dishes.
  • Placemats or tablecloths can be used for special occasions.
  • Dinnerware and flatware should be chosen as appropriate for the occasion and that compliment each other. Matching or blended colors or textures in the dishes or contrast something different make a table setting look attractive.
  • Tablesetting items should be appropriate for the meal served. Snacks on paper plates are appropriate while a home-cooked dinner should be served on attractive dishes to help show it off.
  • Only the utensils needed are placed on the table.
  • The centerpiece should be attractive. Simple ones, such as fresh flowers, a plant, or fruit can be used. If candles are used, they should be of the length so that if they were lit, they would be above eye level.
  • The centerpiece should be low enough so that the people at the table can see over it; it should be colorful and blend with the tablecloth and the dishes; and be fresh and clean looking.

The following rules for setting a table correspond to the numbers seen in the table setting illustration.

1. The flatware, plate, and napkin should be one inch from the edge of the table.
2. The plate is always in the center of the place setting.
3. The dinner fork is placed at the left of the plate.
4. If a salad fork is used, it is placed to the left of the dinner fork.
5. The napkin is placed to the left of the fork, with the fold on the left. It can also go under a fork, or on top of the plate.
6. The knife is placed to the right of the plate with the sharp blade facing in towards the plate.
7. The teaspoon is placed to the right of the knife.
8. If a soup spoon is needed, it is placed to the right of the teaspoon.
9. The soup bowl may be placed to the right of the teaspoon.
10. The drinking glass is placed at the tip of the knife.
11. If a salad plate is used, place it just above the tip of the fork.
12. The cup or mug is placed to the top right of the spoons.

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SOURCE:2012 Nebraska 4-H Foods Judging Guide

Contact Information

Questions or comments about the Youth/4-H site? Email Amy Peterson, MS, RD. 

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