Place setting refers to the way to set a table with tableware—such as eating utensils and dishware—for serving and eating, for a single dinner. When more than one diner is involved, the term Table setting is used. Informal settings generally have fewer utensils and dishes but use a stereotyped layout based on more formal settings.
The arrangement varies across various cultures.
Utensils are arranged in the order and the way a person will use them. Usually in Western culture, that means that the forks, bread plate, spreader, and napkin are to the left, while knives, spoons, drinkware, cups, and saucers are to the right. Formally, in Europe the cup and saucer will not be placed on the table until the very end of the meal.
Utensils on the outermost position are used first (for example, a salad fork and a soup spoon, then dinner fork and dinner knife). The blade of the knife must face toward the plate. The glass is positioned about an inch from the fork. Cup and saucer are placed on the right side of the spoon about four inches from the edge of the table. Dessert fork and spoon can be set above the plate, fork pointing right, to match the other forks, spoon pointing left.
Handy mnemonics and rhymes provide methods for remembering a simple placesetting:
- 'Fork, Moon, Knife, Spoon' (where 'moon' is the dinner plate) specifies the left-to-right order.
- Hold your hands in front of you and make a circle with your thumb and forefinger of each hand, extending the rest of the fingers straight out. On your left you've made a lower case 'b': That's the breadplate. On your right you've made a lowercase 'd': That is the drink.
- 'Fork' has four letters, like the word 'left.' 'Knife' and 'spoon' have five, like the word 'right.'
The table usually has a centrepiece that performs a solely decorative function. If a formal dinner is being served that will fill the available places at the table, care should be taken to not make the centrepiece too large so that there will be sufficient room to place serving dishes. However, at a formal dinner in Europe the centerpiece may be huge and, including candles, may extend the full length of the table as serving plates are not placed on the table. If the dinner is served culture style, that is, that serving dishes are passed from diner to diner. In some cases it may be desirable for the host to move from place to place and serve, especially if children (who might have difficulty handling heavy or hot servings) are present.