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Key Elements of Fine Dining: A Guide to Formal Table Settings

Key Elements of Fine Dining: A Guide to Formal Table Settings

In fine dining, the taste of the food is only half the experience! The presentation of elements and how the table looks is all an integral part of fine dining. You can use a more formal setting when having a dinner party or a holiday meal. With some time and effort, your formal table setting will be one guests will remember!

Learning how to set up the table the proper way can be cumbersome to learn on your own. That’s why we’ve developed this guide for a quick, basic overview of the setting which involves dinnerware, flatware, barware, and table décor. Get these things right and your table will be set and ready for guests to enjoy an exquisite experience.


Dinnerware is one of the core elements of fine dining. Be sure to leave the charger plate, a large service plate, under the main plates. When the entrée is served, this can be removed. Napkins can be placed on the charger plate or on the left-hand side of the forks. A butter plate is typically placed to the upper left-hand side of the main plate, with the knife diagonal across the plate.


A critical part of having a successful table setting is to make sure you get the flatware in the correct order. Remember that guests will begin with the outermost utensils and work their way inward toward the plate. The details of how the flatware is set are very important— knife blades face inward, toward the plate. If special items are necessary (such as specifically-shaped utensils), include these items in the lineup, but don’t put out more than three items on each side of the center plate. Flatware for desserts should now be presented until dessert is served.


Glasses are also placed in a specific order (in order of use), typically to the right upper corner of the plates. Beginning with the most basic, the water glass should remain on the table for the entire meal. Typically, there will be a wine glass (chosen according to the type of wine being served), and then possibly a sherry glass. If there’s a glass for champagne included, it should be placed to the right of the other glasses.

Table Décor

Make sure everything is very clean and sparkly. Watch out for fingerprints on glassware or spots on tablecloths. Votives or candles can be used, but be careful to place them in a symmetrical pattern, with equal distances between items. Free space between settings can be used for flowers or centerpieces, according to what’s appropriate for the season. If things become too crowded, remove accessory items or simplify the setting so that the setting doesn’t feel overwhelming.

The big picture

One of the most important things to remember when preparing a formal table setting is that neatness matters! Flatware should be symmetrical and neat, and every item should be purposefully placed. Keep all utensils and glasses in order according to use. If you follow these tips, you’ll end up with a nice, balanced table setting. Attention to detail and careful thought about what to include will ensure your fine dining experience is a success for all participants!


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