Notes on Formal Dinner Table Setting

Notes on Formal Dinner Table Setting

The season for celebrations is upon us. Over the course of the next few weeks or your career in general, you will be invited to formal business dinners. A formal business dinner can be stressful if you are unfamiliar with table etiquette and trying to be a good conversationalist with upper management at the table. It is safe to say that not all of us grew up in households where formal dinners were the norm, so attending a formal business dining event may give you pause. It is easy to get bent out of shape on this topic, especially for us AfriGens, we are constantly learning the rules of the land and etiquette around formal dining is no different. I’ve complied a two part series on this topic so you can enjoy that formal dinner without fumbling.  In this post, we will cover the table setting.


The easiest way to become comfortable with the cutlery on the table is to understand the proper use for each item and their placement. The following is a quick look at the different items you will encounter at the table setting.


Upon being seated, fold the napkin in half and place it on your lap. Use the inside of the folded napkin to wipe your mouth, it will keep lipstick and make up smudge in the inside of the napkin.


The large plate at the center of the place setting is the charger or service plate. You do not eat on the charger or service plate.

The bread plate is set above the forks and slightly to the left. Keep your bread on the bread plate, not the service plate or charger.

The salad plate is usually brought out by server and placed on the service plate/charger.

The service plate/charger will be removed and replaced with your entree when the main course is served.


Sometimes the number of glasses at the table can be overwhelming. Remember the glasses to your right are your glasswares. Here a few glasses you will encounter:

The water goblet found just above the knife.

Two wine glasses just above the right hand utensils. The larger wine glass is for red wine and the smaller glass is for white wine.

The flute glass is for champagne. You may encounter a small glass for sherry.


The number of utensils at the table can be daunting. Remember that you use the cutlery from the outside in. This means that you start with the outermost cutlery and work your way toward your plate.

Here’s what you will find starting at the outside and working in:

The salad fork is the smaller fork which is the first fork on the outermost side of the plate. Note that in European style, salad is served after the entree so the salad may be found after the dinner fork. Just remember to grab the small fork for your salad and save the largest fork for your entree.

The fish fork which is positioned after your salad fork and should be used if the first course is fish. If you are not eating fish, you can jump over the fish fork and use the dinner fork.

The dinner (entree) fork is the largest fork on the left side. It is used to eat your main course and side dishes.

Soup spoon is for soup or fruit. This spoon is the outside utensil on the right of the plate. Remember that when you are eating soup, you spoon the soup away from you. In case it needs to be said, no slurping and scraping every last bit of the soup – save some at the bottom.

Dessert spoon may be brought out with dessert or placed above your dinner plate at the beginning of the meal.

Fish knife is found to the left of the soup spoon.

Dinner knife is the large knife used for the entree and is placed just to the right of the plate.

Butter knife is the small knife and can be found across the edge of the bread plate. After each buttering, leave the butter knife on the bread plate. Oh, when you pass the bread basket, pass it to your right. Also, do not reach over for the bread basket. Ask someone at the table to pass the bread.

In our next post, we will cover the do’s and don’ts at the table.

Here’s a quick guide to screen shot and save on your phone!







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