Dining etiquette and how to arrange your dining table for formal parties

Even though the holiday season is just around the corner, this blog is not just for Christmas. Dining etiquette remains the same all year round. Hosting a grand dinner party can be quite a daunting task. But not to worry – there are some basic rules of dining etiquette to follow that will ensure you get the presentation just right.

Before we launch into our Dining Etiquette Guide, consider these things first:

The Season: Always take into consideration the season, so you can choose a theme for the table look and/or or elaborate a seasonal menu with products from the local markets.

Plan ahead: Depending on how many guests you will have, you should consider hiring a chef so you can enjoy your party and guests. If it’s a small dinner party, you should be able to cook for your guests without too much trouble, but don’t forget to create your shopping list at least 3 days in advance, to make sure you will have everything you need on the Big Day. Preparation well in advance keeps stress at bay!

How to arrange your dining table for formal parties

The Dining Etiquette Guide

Dressing the dining table: Choose low centrepieces: A classic mistake is to create a high centrepiece. Although beautiful to look at when you are standing up – guests can’t see the person opposite when sitting down. This tends to disturb the flow of conversation! So keep the centrepiece low with a small flower arrangement or a few short candles.

Linens: White linens are considered the most formal but neutral colours can also be elegant. The table cloth should be spread so it hangs evenly on each side. The average drop should be between 30-45cm.

Deciding the courses: Usually at a formal dinner you have 5 to 7 courses:
1st: Appetizer
2nd: Soup
3rd: Fish
4th: Roast
5th: Game
6th: Salad
7th: Dessert
If this is too much, you can always choose between the Fish and Roast and have no 5th course.

Selecting the Tableware:

Glasses are usually one of the most confusing parts, but you can differentiate them by their shape:
Water Glass: The set up begins with the water glass which is placed above each guest’s dinner knife. The other glasses are then arranged around the water glass.
Champagne Glass: A champagne flute may be located between the water glass and the wine glasses.
Red Wine Glass: The red wine glass have a wider globe and may be cupped in the palm of your hand if you choose.
White Wine Glass: The glass with the longer stem and cylindrical globe is the white wine glass and should only be held by the stem.
Sherry Glass: A Small Sherry Glass may also be present to the right of the wine glasses.

How to arrange your dining table for formal parties

All utensils should be set 2.5 cm away from the edge of the table.

Forks: All the forks should be aligned at the bottom and between them you should have at least 1cm (12 mm if you want to be exact)
1. Salad Fork: The salad fork should be placed 2cm from the plate on the left side.
2. Dinner Fork
3. Fish Fork

Knives: The knife blades are always placed with the cutting edges toward the plate.
1. Dinner Knife: The dinner knife should be located 2cm from the plate on the right hand side.
2. Fish Knife
3. Butter Knife

1. Soup Spoon and or Fruit Spoon: They should be placed on the right hand side next to the knives
Dessert Spoons and Forks: A dessert fork and spoon may be placed horizontally above the dinner plate, or if you are short on space, they can be provided when you serve the dessert.

The most formal dinnerware is usually edged with metallic colours –  gold, silver or bronze – as they create an elegant and classy ambience. If you have a preference for more dramatic choices you can combine neutral with vibrant colours.

The tablecloth should of course be flawlessly ironed. The Napkin is placed on the top of the charger (if one is used) or in the space for the plate. It can also go to the left of the forks, or under the forks if the space is tight. Remember to keep the folded edge of the napkin pointed away from the dinner plate.

The following video shows you two interesting ways in which you can fold a napkin – the Bird of Paradise, or the classic Fan:

What about dining etiquette?

If you are the host, or the guest, there are a few things you should know…

  • Times to arrive: Do not arrive early and arrive a maximum of 15 minutes late.
  • Ideas for Gifts: If you are invited for dinner, you should bring a gift for the hostess. Good ideas are flowers, a nice bottle of wine or a pre-agreed dessert.
  • Keep your phones off for the better part of the evening
  • Don’t forget a good host should reroute a boring and inelegant conversation at any time.
  • When the evening is over, close down the bar or begin talking about the evening in the past tense. This always does the trick!
  • If you’re not too sure of the correct order to use the cutlery, or need help with proper table manners, head over to Life Hacker


If you are looking for unusual linens, candles or table decorations, you can find a great collection at the UDesign Showroom, open Monday-Friday 10 am – 7pm and on Saturdays from 10 am -2 pm. Visit our Contact page to see our location.