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How to set a table for a three course meal

Updated February 21, 2017

A three-course meal generally features a starter, usually soup or salad, an entrée and dessert. Each three-course meal place setting requires cutlery, dishes and glasses placed in a certain way on the table. Dessert dishes should be set aside and brought out after entrée dishes have been removed. Chargers, or service plates, add a fine dining look to the table, but are not necessary for a home dinner table.

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  1. Lay the table linens, either a tablecloth or place mats, on the table.

  2. Place a charger in front of each seat, if you're using them. Otherwise, place a dinner plate at each place directly on the tablecloth or place mat. Place a salad plate or soup bowl, or both, depending on what you'll be serving, directly on top of the dinner plate.

  3. Set a dinner fork to the left of each plate. To the left of each dinner fork, place a salad fork, if you'll be serving salad.

  4. Place a dinner knife to the right of each plate. The blade should face the plate. To the right of each dinner knife, place a teaspoon. To the left of each teaspoon, place a soup spoon, if you'll be serving soup.

  5. Set a dessert fork horizontally above the dinner plate with the top pointing to the right. Above the dessert fork, place a dessert spoon with its top pointing to the left.

  6. Place a small bread plate to the left of the dessert flatware, above the forks. Place a butter knife on top of each bread plate.

  7. Set the water glass to the right of the dessert flatware, above the knife and spoon. To the right of the water glass, place a red wine glass, then a white wine glass, then a dessert wine glass, if you'll be serving wines. For a child's place setting, omit the wine glasses and add a tumbler for milk or juice. There's no need to set out glasses for a type of wine you won't be serving, but if you'll be serving different types, set each type of glassware at each place, so guests have the proper glass at hand.

  8. Turn the coffee cups upside-down on the saucers. Place a coffee cup and saucer to the right of the knife and spoon at each adult place setting. If space is tight, set the coffee cups aside with the dessert plates and bring them out when dessert is served.

  9. Fold napkins like a letter, in half, then in thirds. Place a napkin to the left of the forks, or on top of the salad plate.

  10. Tip

    Don't put out utensils, glasses or plates that don't have a corresponding food or drink just to have an elaborate place setting. Every piece should have a purpose. Remove plates or bowls and utensils from the first course before serving the second course, and remove second course plates and utensils before serving dessert. When placing flatware, the outermost utensil is used first. You also can fold or roll napkins into different shapes and use napkin rings for a more decorative presentation.

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Things You'll Need

  • Tablecloth
  • Place mats
  • Cloth napkins
  • Chargers
  • Dinner plates
  • Salad plates
  • Soup bowls
  • Bread plates
  • Dinner forks
  • Dinner knifes
  • Salad forks
  • Soup spoons
  • Butter knives
  • Dessert forks
  • Dessert spoons
  • Coffee cups and saucers
  • Coffee spoons
  • Water glasses
  • Red wine glasses
  • White wine glasses
  • Dessert wine glasses

About the Author

Daisy Cuinn

Delaware-based Daisy Cuinn has been writing professionally since 1997, when she became the features editor for her local biweekly music newspaper. She has been a staff writer and contributor to online and offline magazines, including "What It Is!," Celebrations.com and Slashfood. Cuinn holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Temple University.

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