Table Manners and Proper Settings

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by Ellen Easton

Table Manners and Proper Settings
Photo copyright Ellen Easton

Why do table manners matter?

Manners matter because they are the foundation to good communication and social order. While etiquette and customs do evolve over time, some traditions are not negotiable. Just because some customs are practiced by a society does not validate the inappropriate behavior.

If we, as a society in general, stop caring about the customs of civility, at what point does systemic disruption follow? Examples of good versus bad, inexcusable manners, whether in one’s social behavior or simply setting the table incorrectly can result in the difference of a positive or negative out-come.

Table Manners Dos and Don’ts

Good manners and good behavior are for every day, not just for some time.

DO: … give thanks… offer to help set the table when at home… wash your hands before dining… sit up straight in your chair…. when seated, place the napkin in your lap… when leaving the table, place your napkin to the left of your place setting-never on the chair… be a good conversationalist…. when you want something, ask for it to be passed, “Will you please pass the bread?”… Remember to say, “Thank you.”… When an elder or a woman approaches your table, always stand up to show respect… offer to help with the chair if the person seated next to you is elderly or a woman.

DO NOT: … take big bites of food… cut all of your food at one time; instead cut one piece of food at a time…. chew with your mouth open…. talk with food in your mouth…. place your elbows on the table… play with your food or silverware…. slurp when drinking liquids…. leave your spoon in a glass or bowl…. hold or wave your utensils in the air…. lift your plate or bowl off of the table when eating. … place your dirty utensils directly on the table; instead, place them on the side of your plate…. place your napkin on a chair… do not interrupt when another is speaking…. speak in a loud or boisterous manner…. smoke at a table. (Do not smoke at all for better health.) … drink to get drunk ever, avoiding regretful circumstances.

The table setting is not negotiable

Table Manners and Proper Settings

Hillwood Estate: Dinner Table with Stemware- Water, Champagne, Red Wine and White Wine.  The Dessert Fork and Spoon placed at the top of the plate.

Setting the table. The equipage of the table is individually placed for a specific reason to insure the flow of the dining experience. The décor of the table is secondary to the application of the service. Setting the basic table should be a simple task. Regretfully, even mainstream media has forsaken the responsibility to depict a correctly set table. My newest pet peeve is to see brand name companies exhibiting their wares with plates, forks, knives, spoons, glasses and napkins strewn about on the table in chaos.

I don’t care how many establishments are now serving bowls without an under-plate; it is absolutely wrong and will never be acceptable. The lack of an under-plate is not a design statement. The under plate is to insure hygiene so that no server’s hands touch the vessel from which the diner is eating. In addition, the under-plate is where one places one’s used dining utensils as to not soil the cloth or table. Unless you are in a private home, it is acceptable to discreetly ask the server for an under-plate.  Please take the time to learn how to set a simple table. In the long term you will not regret it.

Sit Down Placement For Each Guest. Easy Placement Tips To Remember:

  • With your left fingers form a small “b” The bread and butter plate is set on the left.
  • With your right fingers form a small “d” The drinks are set on the right.
  • LEFT has 4 letters… FORK has 4 letters.RIGHT has 5 letters… KNIFE and SPOON each have 5 letters.
  • BREAD AND BUTTER PLATE: set to the top left, above the forks. BREAD AND BUTTER KNIFE: place horizontally, blade facing down, across the top of the B & B plate. PLATE: set in the center of the place setting.
  • LARGE FORK: set to the left of the plate. SMALL FORK: set to the left of the large fork.
  • NAPKIN: set to the left of the plate, to the left of the fork, folded edge to the left-open edge to the right; or, if with a fancy fold, set in the center of the plate.
  • LARGE KNIFE: set to the right of the plate. The sharp edge of the knife faces the plate.
  • TEA SPOON: set to the right of the knife.
  • SOUP SPOON: set to the right of the teaspoon.
  • WATER GLASS: set to the right, above the knife.
  • ADDITIONAL GLASSES: set to the right of the water glass.
  • TEACUP AND SAUCER: to the right side of flatware.
  • TEAPOT: place within easy reach, set to the right of each guest, with the handle facing on the right.
  • PLACE CARD: traditionally set above the plate. Modern setting allows the place care on the napkin if placing the napkin on the plate. Place card can also be placed directly on the plate.


  • CANDLEHOLDERS (optional): Only light candles after 5 PM with the curtains drawn.
  • CENTERPIECE: The centerpiece on the table should always be low enough to not block the view of another diner.
  • SERVING: Serve foods from the left side and clear from the right side. Serve and clear beverages from the right side.
  • WHEN IN DOUBT: Eat using the utensils from the outside of the place setting towards the inside of the place setting.

Breakfast Place Setting:

Table Manners and Proper Settings

Luncheon Place Setting:

Table Manners and Proper Settings

Informal or Family Dinner Setting:

Table Manners and Proper Settings

Dinner Place Setting: A Bread and Butter Plate is not set on a formal dinner table.

Table Manners and Proper Settings

Buffet Place Setting:

Table Manners and Proper Settings

Text and photos copyright Ellen Easton.

Ellen Easton, author of Afternoon Tea~Tips, Terms and Traditions(RED WAGON PRESS), an afternoon tea authority, lifestyle and etiquette industry leader, keynote speaker and product spokesperson, is a hospitality, design, and retail consultant whose clients have included the Waldorf=Astoria, the Plaza and Bergdorf Goodman. Easton’s family traces their tea roots to the early 1800s, when ancestors first introduced tea plants from India and China to the Colony of Ceylon, thus building one of the largest and best cultivated teas estates on the island.

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