Table Setting For the Holidays

Each year during the winter holidays, I have the honor of hosting our family’s Christmas dinner. By early December, my dining room table is formally set and beautifully adorned with my best china, crystal and flatware.

Grandpa, grandma, mom, dad, sis and brother-in-law, uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends are greeted with hugs and kisses as they arrive to the sound of Christmas music, flickering lights, and the echoing Christmas cheers of the animated Santa sharing Ho-Ho-Ho’s and Merry Christmas. Our 20+ guests and I enjoy a traditional soul food feast consisting of turkey, honey baked ham, corn bread dressing, greens, macaroni and cheese, dirty rice, yams, green bean casserole, fried corn, potato salad, sweet potato pies, cakes and several other foods and desserts.

With such an array of foods and so many guests, my preferred method of serving is buffet style with a flare of formality for the ladies. After prayer and thanksgiving are offered for the occasion and the food, the plates are prepared. The men gravitate around the television (football); the children feast at the kitchen table; and the ladies dine at a festive, yet elegant, formal dining room setting.

This month’s tips will provide guidance to help you master the art of table navigation and formal table setting:

  • The Dinner Plate is always positioned in the center of the place setting, preferable on top of a decorative service plate/charger, place mat or nicely pressed tablecloth.
  • The smaller Salad Plate goes on top of the dinner plate when the salad is served as a separate course.
  • The Dinner Fork & Salad Fork are located to the left of the plate. In formal settings, the salad is traditionally served before the main course; therefore the salad fork is positioned to the left of the dinner fork.
  • The Dinner Knife, Salad Knife and Soup Spoon are to be placed on the right side of the plate. The soup spoon is placed farthest right, then the salad knife followed by the dinner knife which is nearest to the plate. The
    rule for silverware is to use the utensils from the outside in as the meal progresses.
  • The Dessert Spoon and Dessert Fork are laid horizontally above the plate, the fork below with the handle to the left, the spoon above with the handle to the right.
    Please note – only set the table with utensils that will be needed during the meal. For example, if no soup will be served, do not set your table with a soup spoon.
  • The Napkin is neatly arranged to the left of the plate or on the plate. Never under utensils. During the holidays, I charm my guests by folding napkins into stylish shapes.
  • If breads or dinner rolls will be served, the Bread Plate belongs just above the forks. The Butter Knife is positioned horizontally across the bread plate (blade facing diner).
  • The Glassware is located to the right of the plate above the knives. Five is the maximum number of glasses one can have at an individual place setting.
  • Coffee Cups and Saucers are not to be placed at a formal setting. After the main meal is completed and the dishes removed, the coffee cups are brought inpreparation for the dessert service.

Here are some easy tips to remember that the bread plate and forks go on the left, and the glasses, spoon & knives on the right.


b d (Bread & Drink)

Hold both hands in front of you, palms facing each other. Using the tips of your thumb and forefinger, make circles on each hand. The remaining three fingers in each hand point upwards. Your left hand forms a “b” and your right hand forms a “d”. Bread(b) is on the left, and Drink(d) is on the right.


Fork, Spoon & Knife

FORK has four letters, so does LEFT; SPOON & KNIFE have five letters, so does RIGHT.

Fork left, spoon and knife right.



Bread(B) left, Main(M) center, and Water(W) right.

The basic principles of table setting will also help those of you dining out this holiday season. Practice setting the table, so when you’re attending your company’s holiday banquet or a New Year’s extravaganza, there will be no debating thoughts as to which fork to use first or which glass or bread plate is yours.

For the privileged host and hostess, don’t just serve great foods this Christmas; WOW your guests with style, sophistication and class. My etiquette mentor, teacher and friend Mrs. Peggy Newfield, president of the Atlanta-based American School of Protocol once told me that a proper and beautifully set table makes the meal taste better.

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas and Bon Appétit!

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Tina Hayes is the founder and owner of The School of Etiquette and Decorum in Antioch, CA. As a passionate instructor dedicated to providing quality and professional etiquette training to her clients, Mrs. Tina Hayes promotes the awareness that social presentation and behaviors are important to be successful in today's society for all ages.