How to Set the Table for Formal Parties

Party etiquette is, perhaps, one of those long lost arts of the past. But as the holiday season approaches many of us start to yearn for the good old days of black tie affairs ending with a sing-a-long at the piano. I always feel the need to be a little fancier around the holidays, don’t you?

dinner party

For my birthday this year, I was given a lovely 1959 copy of Emily Post’s Blue Book of Social Usage, a helpful guidebook to social etiquette. I thought it might be nice to share how Ms. Post suggests we set the table for dinner parties, since Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah are right around the corner.

table setting
  1. The dinner plate starts off the entire setting – it should be centered in front of each seat.
  2. The salad plate (should you choose to use one) sits on top of the dinner plate.
  3. The fork (or forks, if using multiples) are to the left of the plates and about one inch from the edge of the table.
  4. The knife and spoon are to the right of the dinner plate, also about one inch from the edge of the table- the blade of the knife should be facing the plate.
  5. The bread and butter plate (if you choose to use them) go above the fork on the left side of the setting.
  6. Drinking glasses go above the knife and spoon on the right side of the setting.
  7. The napkin should be folded or neatly in a napkin ring and can be placed in one of two different locations per your aesthetic preferences. The napkin can either sit to the left of the fork as demonstrated in the first picture, or can sit on top of the plates as shown in the second picture.
set the table
set the table

Placemats add a nice touch of sophistication, but if you have a small table it may look too cluttered. I would suggest setting a few seats with the placemats so that you get a feel for how large or small your table might be. When setting my rectangular table, I always used placemats. But my round (octagon) table is too small and the placemats just make the table look cheap if I try to use them. If you do decide to use placemats, the bread & butter plate and the drinking glasses will sit on the left and right corners of the placemat, respectively.

table setting 1

If you choose to have a centerpiece on your table, ensure that it is lower than eye level as to not disrupt conversation. Candles should be spaced enough that guests are able to easily make eye contact with each other.


Now you’re ready to pop a turkey in the oven and throw a fabulously vintage styled dinner party. Don’t forget to drum up some delicious cocktails to serve after dinner!

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