19th Century Dinner Party Table Settings

Written by joseph cohen
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19th Century Dinner Party Table Settings
Modern place settings are very similar to the Russian style introduced in the 19th century. (Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

The 19th century saw a shift in dining styles from the English style of service, where courses were brought to the table to be served, to the Russian style of service, where food was brought out on individual plates for each course. The 19th century place settings drew on the standards of the Russian style, which used the extra space afforded by not having each dish placed on the table to lay out intricate place settings.

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The service plate was laid for each dinner guest. The plate's lower rim was one inch from the edge of the table. It remained on the table until removed for a hotplate. Cold dishes, such as salads, or those with saucers, such as soups, were placed on top of the service plate.


Silver was placed on the table in the order it was to be used. On the left side of the plate were forks, no more than three, staggered low-high-low, and intended for various meats, poultry and fish. On the right side from the outside-in, were a small fork for fruits or oysters, a soup spoon, a knife for fish and a knife for meat, both placed with the blades in. No dessert fork or salad fork was placed on the table at the beginning of the meal, and were instead brought with the dish. If more than three forks were required, additional forks were brought out with the dish.

Other Plates & Glasses

A bread & butter plate was placed at the top of the service plate, with a butter spreader on the right side of that plate. A napkin was placed on the right side of the forks, aligned with the bottom of the service plate. The water glass was placed at the tip of the knife.


The sparser table of the Russian service led to the custom of serving complimentary wines with each course. Prior to this, each diner drank his own choice of wine. But with room on the table, oysters were expected to be paired with Chablis, soup with sherry, fish with hock, entrées with champagne, meat with burgundy, game with claret and dessert with port.

Differences in Styles

Diners would bring their own spoons to the table in the English style of service. Heavily ornamented spoons became popular as a show of power and wealth (the origin of the phrase "born with a silver spoon"), followed by other silver and service as points of prestige. Dinner settings were very ornamental, but crowded, with over 25 variations on how to fold a napkin.

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