Setting a Formal Dinner Table - Catering Tips

Table Settings for a Formal Dinner

Catering sit-down plated dinners for the holidays is the norm here at Shannon Event Productions. We cater plated meals nearly every weekend from November to January. Unlike catering for company picnics and BBQs, holiday dinners require additional expertise.

Start with the Basics

Table settings for informal dinners are much more relaxed than formal ones. Glassware, silverware, napkins, chargers, water glasses, soup spoons, dinner forks...the table arrangements change according to the menu being served. Once you have selected a menu with your catering company, you can start with the basic table setting and add accordingly.

Basic Table Settings

The basic table setting starts with a centered positioned dinner plate with flatware arranged around according to the order which it is used.

  • The fork is arranged to the left of the plate with a napkin below (optional).
  • The knife and spoon are arranged to the right, with the knife edge pointed towards the plate and the spoon to the furthest right.
  • Above the knife, a water glass is placed.

Add Accordingly to Your Menu

  • If you serve a salad...
    • Add a salad fork, placed to the left of the dinner fork.
  • If you serve soup...
    • Add a bowl on the plate and a soup spoon to the right of the dinner spoon.
  • If you serve bread and butter...
    • Add a small plate to the left of the fork(s).
    • Additionally, add a butter plate (with butter knife across the small plate of butter) above the fork(s).
  • If you serve dessert...
    • Add a dessert fork to the left of the dinner and/or salad fork.
    • If a spoon is better for your dessert menu option, place it to the right of the soup/dinner spoon(s).
  • If you serve a hot beverage...
    • Add matching cup and saucer above the spoons with the handle positioned to the right.
  • If you serve Wine or Champaign...
    • Add real glassware (wine glass or champagne flute) left of the water glasses.

Formal Table Settings

Formal dinners include additional pizzaz to dress up the table. Flatware, china, and glassware become more specially designed for the menu option. For example:

  • A charger (often a complimentary color) is added under the dinner plate.
  • A name placement card is placed above the plate/charger.
  • Large cloth napkins (sometimes colored, but often white) are used.
  • Crystal glassware such as sherry, white and red wine glasses may be used.
  • Specialized silverware may be included (such as a fish fork, salad knife, tea spoon and more).
  • A gravy boat, serving plate, and additional serving utensils may be included as needed.
  • A centerpiece is added (often floral arrangements).
  • A pressed tablecloth is placed over the table.
  • Spotlights, pin lighting, and/or candles are often provided for ambiance.

When To Set a Formal Dinner Table

If you are catering a holiday party or VIP dinner, a formal table setting is your best choice. Often luncheons and large dinner gatherings (such as a catered conference or business meeting) are less formal and relax their table settings accordingly. For assistance with your catered event, contact our team of professionals.