The place setting is the cornerstone of any dining table, but the specific components can vary depending on formality and the type of meal being served. The fundamental components of any place setting are: 1) dinner plate or charger, 2) dinner fork, knife and spoon, 3) water glass and 4) napkin. Some optional components include:
- Salad plate and fork
- Fish fork and knife
- Bread plate with butter spreader
- Wine glass
- Champagne flute
- Soup bowl and spoon (not shown)
- Dessert plate and fork (not shown)
- Coffee/tea cup and saucer with teaspoon (not shown)
The diagram below shows how common items should be arranged to create a formal place setting:
Depending on the size of your dining room table, most people prefer to have between eight and twelve place settings on hand. If serving champagne, the flute should be placed behind the wine glass, since sparkling wine is typically served after the meal. To save space, it’s usually best for the host to bring coffee cups and saucers out after clearing the dinner plates and before serving dessert.
Types of Dinnerware
- Earthenware is a type of ceramic that is fired at low temperature, and is one of the oldest forms of ceramic material. Earthenware may or may not be dishwasher safe.
- Stoneware is fired at higher temperatures than earthernware, generally making it more durable. Stoneware is often dishwasher and microwave safe.
- Porcelain china or fine china is a type of ceramic fired at extremely high temperatures. The result is a very smooth, durable and slightly translucent material. It was originally developed in China during the Han Dynasty.
- Bone china is a type of porcelain prized for its superior strength and chip resistance, and was first developed in England in the mid-18th century. The added durability is achieved by adding bone ash, hence the name.
- Glassware is a popular addition to traditional ceramic dinnerware. Dessert plates, salad plates and serving plates are often made of glass and may feature ornate patterns. Nachtmann dinnerware is a fine example.
- Melamine is an organic compound used to create resin, which can then be used to make plates and bowls that are very strong and heat-resistant. Melamine is dishwasher safe, but usually not microwave safe. Le Cadeaux dinnerware is an excellent option for melamine dishes and bowls.
For formal dinners and dinner parties, meals are usually served in courses from the kitchen. Formal dinner courses are most often served in the following order: appetizer or soup course (unless soup is the main course), salad course, main course (entree) and dessert course, which often includes coffee. Some prefer to have the salad course before or after the main course, depending on personal preference. Bread is usually made available throughout the meal.
For more casual, family-style dinners, the entree, sides, bread and salad can simply be placed on the table in containers and served in a roundtable fashion. If the dining table is small, it’s often best to carve roasts or poultry in the kitchen and bring the pre-carved entree out on a platter. Common serveware items include pitchers for water and/or iced tea, a decanter for wine, large and medium-sized platters, serving bowls, tureens (serving containers with lids), a butter tray, a gravy boat and possibly a cake stand. A cheese board is another helpful item, especially for entertaining. Of course, the variety of serveware you’ll need depends on the type of meal you intend to serve.
Silverware and stainless steel flatware are available in a wide range of styles, from minimalist to ornate. Depending on your personal taste, you should choose a flatware pattern to complement your dishes. Most flatware sets have matching serving sets available, which typically contain a serving spoon, meat fork and cake server. You may also be able to buy a matching butter knife and sugar spoon.
Should You Choose Stainless Steel Flatware or Traditional Silverware?
The quality of stainless steel flatware is determined by the nickel content. A designation of 18/0 corresponds to a chromium content of 18 and a nickel content of zero. Similarly, an 18/10 ratio signifies 18-percent chromium and 10-percent nickel. Essentially, higher nickel content provides better rust resistance and a shinier finish. Most stainless steel flatware is machine washable and very durable, which makes it a good all-around choice for many households.
Traditional silverware is made from sterling silver, which is a silver alloy. This type of flatware should be handwashed using gentle soap and water. Harsher detergents and high-temp dishwashers can damage silverware over time. Silverware also requires occasional polishing to prevent tarnishing and maintain its shine. However, silver flatware has a beauty that stainless steel just can’t quite match, which is why some people still prefer traditional silverware.
As mentioned earlier, the three primary drinkware components needed for a table setting are: a drinking glass or goblet, a wine glass and a champagne flute. Some wine enthusiasts prefer to have wider goblets for red wine and narrower wine glasses for white wine, although this isn’t necessarily essential. There are various glasses available for dessert wines, sherry, liqueurs and other libations that may be served before, during or after dinner. Several different types of beer glasses and chalices are also available for consuming beer. Of course, you may also want to include a set of coffee or tea cups and saucers to accompany the dessert course.
Glass vs. Crystal Stemware
Most contemporary stemware is made of glass. However, crystal glassware may also be used. Traditionally, crystal was created using lead glass, and is desired for its enhanced brilliance. Antique lead crystal is still used by some families, as it can be passed down through the generations. Lead crystal should be washed before and after meals, and beverages should not be stored in antique decanters for more than a few hours, as leeching can occur. Most modern crystal is made with lead-free crystal glass.
Dining decor ranges from casual to formal, modern to traditional. What you choose is totally up to you. However, with a little creativity, you’ll be able to create a unique, welcoming venue for meals and entertaining. One item that can really come in handy in any dining room is a sideboard or dining buffet, which can be used to store tableware, drinkware and other items. The top of a sideboard can also be used to create a self-service drink station and/or coffee station when entertaining.
To help protect your dining table and add a pleasing aesthetic, many hosts will use a tablecloth, which may or may not be combined with a table runner. Traditionally, tablecloths were made of linen. However, most contemporary cloths are made of polyester or poly-cotton blends, which are easier to wash. Placemats and coasters are more commonly used for casual dinners. Finally, consider adding a finishing touch to your table setting with freshly cut flowers and candles. For added safety (and to avoid potentially spilling wax on your nice tablecloth), flameless candles are a great option.