How to Set an Informal Dinner Table

by Kristen Hamlin ; Updated November 30, 2018

Informal table settings have fewer utensils and plates than formal settings.

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Even if you are just enjoying a casual meal at home or hosting a small dinner party with friends, setting the table correctly lets everyone know that you want this time with them to be special. While it may be fine to set out just dinner plates, glasses and silverware, Emily Post says a proper informal setting requires more. Decide for yourself, but it never hurts to know how Post would have you set your table for an informal meal.

Set the dinner plate in front of the chair, with the folded napkin on top of the plate. This is the anchor for all of the other dinnerware and utensils. If the meal is buffet style or served on individual plates, place the folded napkin on the table where the plate will go.

Place the dinner or steak knife to the right of the plate. The cutting edge of the knife should face inward, toward the plate.

Add the spoons to the place setting. The dessert spoon, which will be used last, goes next to the knife. The soup spoon should be placed to the right of the dessert spoon. If you are not serving soup, skip the soup spoon. The dessert spoon can also be brought to the table after the meal, with the dessert.

Place the forks to the left of the plate. The salad fork, which is used first, goes to the far left, and the dinner fork is placed between the salad fork and the dinner plate.

Set the drinking glasses to the right of the plate, above the knives. This includes water or juice glasses and wine glasses if you are serving wine.

Add the coffee cup, saucer and coffee spoon above the knives and spoons, to the right of the drinking glasses. For a casual meal at home, you can bring the coffee cups to the table after the meal, when dessert is served.

Place the salad plate to the left of the forks, if salad will be eaten with the meal. If there's room on the plate, and the main course has no sauce, you can skip the salad plates, and diners can put their salad on their dinner plates.


  • Set out only the utensils that your guests will need. Remember the rule of working from the outside in when you're placing utensils on the table. Place the items that will be used first on the outside. The folded napkin can be placed to the left of the forks or under the forks if space is cramped. If you’re serving salad before the main course, and you don’t have space for both the salad and dinner plates, serve the salad, remove the plates and replace them with the dinner plates.

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About the Author

An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.