Formal Table Setting Tips from the Napkin Wizard

Over the course of my career, I have hosted hundreds of formal meals. Many people have confessed to me that they get confused when they are faced with an arrangement of plates, cutlery, and glasses. There’s no need to be afraid of social embarrassment—as long as you understand a few basic things about formal table settings, you can enjoy yourself without worrying about forks and spoons.

Formal Table Setting Basics

When you attend a formal event, you will have a formal table setting in front of you. A charger is typically used for decorating and to balance out the table setting. The charger looks like a large plate and is located under the serving plate. A folded napkin placed on top. Always wait until everyone at the table has been seated before opening your napkin and placing it on your lap. At that point, you should also remove the place card if one is present and place it to the side.

Cutlery and Glasses

When it comes to cutlery, always remember to work from the outside in. On your right hand side, you will have a soup spoon, fish knife, and dinner knife. If an oyster fork will be necessary during the meal, it will be located to the right of the soup spoon. On your left hand side, you will have a fish fork, dinner fork, and salad fork.

A bread plate with butter knife will be in front of the forks, and above the charger will be a dessert fork and dessert spoon. Salt and pepper will be in front of the dessert cutlery. Glasses will be set up to your right. The water glass should be in front of your dinner knife, followed by a red wine glass and white wine glass. If it is needed, a champagne glass will be next to the water glass. If the host is pressed for space, the glasses may be set up in a diamond shape—the water glass in front of the dinner knife, followed by the white wine glass with the red wine glass behind it. The champage glass will be between the red wine and water glasses in that case.

Watch the Napkin Wizard on YouTube

My helpful YouTube video Formal Table Setting by Jimmy Ng will help you see these tips in action, so be sure to view it today!



  1. Hi Jimmy,
    Very nice. I also talk about table setting in my Professional Housekeeper Training Guide. Take a look.

    Best regards,

    • Jimmy

      Hello Marta, Very nice thanksgiving table. Thank you.

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