> Guide to setting a table

There’s more to setting a table than knowing where the knives go. There’s your imagination, for instance. The way you add a pop of color or a special detail and suddenly, a quick bite to eat becomes a fun family dinner. Or maybe it’s the way your parties get remembered and talked about long after the fact.

At Pier 1, we want to help you find those clever touches and show them off in the best way possible. That’s why we really do go around the world in search of fresh, colorful and unique choices in dinnerware, glassware and table linens. And that’s why we want you to know all the details about what you’re putting on your table.

table-setting guide
The Everyday Table Setting
The everyday table

After a busy day, you need a fast, easy approach, so set out only the items you are going to use: Fork on the left, knife on the right, dinner plate and napkin in the middle, drinking glass to the upper right. If you're not going to need a spoon, why throw your utensilary pearls before swine? Some unwitting diner will inevitably knock it on the floor when grabbing for the last slice of pizza and then you'll have to wash it anyway. And no sporks. Ever.

The casual dinner table
The Casual Table Setting

For gatherings that are special but still cozy, this approach starts with the basic everyday setting above and adds a salad or bread plate on the upper left and wine goblet next to the water glass on the upper right. A smaller salad fork is placed to the left of the dinner fork. Note that the knife blade always faces in—toward the diner and away from other guests. This symbolically reassures one’s neighbor to the right that one does not secretly wish them harm.

The Elegant Table Setting
The elegant dinner table

Building on the casual dinner setting, add a charger beneath the dinner plate for instant glamour, then position the dessert spoon horizontally and head-to-tail above. Rule of thumb: Always begin dining with the outside utensil and work your way in, no matter how many pieces there are. When in doubt, look to your host or hostess with big, pleading puppy eyes and shrug your shoulders.


These table-setting suggestions take you from everyday to the more formal occasions. And when you need special inspiration, check out more table-setting ideas for holidays and all year long.  

setting up a buffet

This table-setting business is all well and good if you're having a sit-down dinner. But what about a buffet? Is there no handy diagram for that easy-on-the-hostess approach to dinner parties? Glad you asked.

Setting up a buffet
napkins silverware serveware serveware serveware serveware serveware serveware dinnerware Setting up a buffet

If you still want to keep your dining table for seating, you can set your buffet around a kitchen island or adapt it to a sideboard or kitchen counter.  

the dish

A clay-based, porus ceramic fired at a low temperature. It's light, pliant and able to hold brightly colored glazes and colorful, hand-painted designs. Glazed earthenware is safe in the dishwasher but not the oven. Usually works in the microwave, but always check packaging or instruction labels first.


A heavy, nonporous pottery made from clay and fired at a high temperature, stoneware is denser and more durable than earthenware and is well-suited for everyday use. Which usually means the dishwasher, oven, microwave and, you know, table.


Ceramic that has been fired at an extremely high temperature, porcelain is exceptionally durable and translucent white. It has a high resistance to chipping, thermal shock and general mayhem and is usually dishwasher-safe and microwaveable UNLESS metallic details are present.


Crafted from durable resin that is long-lasting and shatter-resistant, melamine dinnerware is practically indestructible. And because it’s dishwasher-safe, it is easy to care for, making it perfect for entertaining both indoors and out.

The Flatware

The mighty fork came on the scene a few centuries ago and has been the mainstay of plate-to-mouth food conveyance ever since. A typical five-piece place setting consists of dinner fork, salad/dessert fork, dinner knife, dinner spoon and teaspoon. Some services include a cream soup spoon. In addition, hostess or completer sets may include a large tablespoon for serving, a pierced tablespoon, cold meat fork, butter knife, sugar spoon, pie/cake server, casserole spoon and gravy ladle.


Linens are not always, we're glad to say, made of linen. Luckily, there are plenty of coverage options of styles and materials to choose from.

Add visual impact to your table while protecting its surface. Placemats come in myriad colors, textures and patterns to make your plates pop. Combine them with a table runner, napkins and chargers for a layered place setting. Choose a luxe look with hand-beaded placemats, or go with a more casual cloth option for everyday use and easy care.

From formal to everyday, there’s a table runner for every occasion. Center your runner down the length of the table or place two side by side for a contemporary look. They’re also perfect for using atop a buffet or hutch. A beaded topper can be any length as long as it doesn’t drape over the table edge, while a runner should hang over the edge around 6" on both sides.

Napkins should either coordinate or contrast with the rest of your place setting. It’s easy to mix and match solid napkins with patterns and vice versa. Choose from simple hemstitched napkins or up the elegance with embellished or beaded edges. Last, but not least, create a unique look by adding napkin rings that complement the color palette atop the table.