How to Set the Table

by Angela on October 1, 2010 in Dinner Table

I can think of nothing simpler in this world that will nourish a body and soul as a family dinner will. I am a big believer in sitting at a nicely-dressed table and enjoying a meal together at least a few times a week. Do we ever do it as often as I’d like? No. Do we eat in the car on the way to a lesson once in a while? Sure we do. However, my goal is to more often than not, sit together, break our bread, and share our day.

When she was in seventh grade, I decided to teach my daughter to set a table as part of a homeschool class. Before that, we’d just been doing a haphazard setting of whatever each night, and I had no idea what a proper place setting was. I soon found that most of your basic cookbooks have a diagram similar to the one pictured here from the Washington Post.

Place setting

Whew, that formal setting is something else, isn’t it? I had Coco copy a diagram onto paper and then set the table on her own for dinner that night. Easy! After a few practice runs with her cheat sheet, she had it down. I still need one, but that’s another matter entirely. I’m thrilled that my daughters will start their families one day with the ability to set a table for any kind of event.

I would encourage you not to wait until seventh grade to teach your daughters. Younger children can certainly learn, too. My youngest was five when Coco learned, and she wanted a turn the next night. I realized then that I could have taught Coco when she was much younger but it hadn’t occurred to me until I wanted to teach her a homemaking course.

A Touch of Beauty

Something I’ve enjoyed long before I knew where the dessert spoon belonged is bringing a little bit of beauty to our table as often as I can. There are so many simple household items you can gather and place in a bowl, or on a tray and add interest to your table. It only adds a minute or two to your routine, and makes everyone feel just a little more special.
Here are some things I’ve thrown together in a minute:

• Sea shells
• Leaves
• A collection of beaded necklaces on a mirror
• A pretty scarf
• A glass bowl of apples and oranges

Oftentimes, I’ll ask my younger daughter to find something pretty for the table and she makes quite an adventure out of it. She doesn’t think twice about laying a dress-up crown and wand in the middle of the table because she’s seen her mommy do it on birthdays.

These are just a few simple ideas to get you started. I will be posting more specific table settings here at Raising Homemakers in the future.

I like to think that our chatty meals will create the backdrop of what will all too soon be my daughters’ childhood memories. And I often remind them that they will come home every Sunday for our big Sunday dinner, and bring their families, too. Of course they won’t have to come far, because they’ll live on the same block. A mom can dream, right?

Do you know how to set a table or did you have to peek at the diagram like I did?


Angela is a wife, homeschooling mom, and proud Jesus-Freak. She is trying to learn for herself what it means to be a godly homemaker as she passes it on to her daughters. She hopes they’ll be better house-keepers than she is, but she knows being a homemaker is about so much more than keeping a house, it’s about building a home. Angela writes about being domestically challenged, creating family traditions, blessing your husband, nurturing yourself, following Jesus, homeschooling, and life as a mom at Homegrown Mom.

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Kasey October 1, 2010

Setting the table was one of my first responsibilities. I remember making place cards for dinner one night, my mother still has them. Mine had about 10x’s more glitter than anyone elses. So excited to make my table pretty tonight.

Veronica Arthur October 1, 2010

I love this post! My 7 year old son, 9 yr old daughter and I will soon be role playing and learning to sit down and eat at a properly set table with good manners. Homeschooling is the best!

brenda October 1, 2010

For very young children you can trace all the dishes onto a posterboard and make a placemat out of it. Makes it easy for them to set it.

And…I live 3 doors down from my parents! 🙂

Angela @ Homegrown Mom October 1, 2010

I love that idea, Brenda! I remember doing that with the preschool class I taught, and with my oldest daughter at home, but that was years ago… I had totally forgotten 🙂 We laminated it with clear contact paper and it lasted quite a while.

Debbie October 1, 2010

This is a useful post. Thanks. I’m going to use it for Home Ec, too.

Erin October 1, 2010

I have never set a table for a meal using a soup spoon or salad fork, or a wine glass. 🙂 We were always the extra-informal pared-down types. But my mom did teach us to set the table neatly and with everything in the right place. My boys set the table sometimes but not quite so neatly. Maybe I should work on it with them. Not that they’ll ever be homemakers, but their wives will sure be happy to have help with the table setting, right? 😉

Valencia October 1, 2010

Oh this is lovely! My kids will happily learn this and I love Brenda’s idea to trace the settings while they practice.

Ayla Serenemoon October 1, 2010

Wow! I throw the utensils in a pile in the middle of the table! I think this post will help me class up my dinner table. Thank you!

h. rae October 1, 2010

Wonderful post! I learned how to set a table from a sweet little book called Social Graces by Ann Platz and Susan Wales. You’ve probably heard of it. It teaches formal, informal and even luncheon place settings along with proper seating arrangements and manners and what to do when you’re the guest. It’s also chock full of gorgeous pictures. I don’t have children, but I can certainly see the importance of teaching them proper etiquette.

TMichelle October 1, 2010

It helps to remember when setting (or eating) at a formal dinner that the utensils that you use in the first course are on the outer edges and you work your way in closer to the plate with each course.

Paula@Simply Sandwich October 1, 2010

When my kids were really young, I made a placemat template out of construction paper. I laminated it and the kids would take the sample to the table and set it themselves. Now older, they still love that template and want to keep it for their kids.

Lady Rose October 1, 2010

I really enjoyed reading this post. I’m going to have to copy those place settings. I guess I’ve been a little too informal, as I usually just set the table “any old way.” Not anymore. 🙂

Also, I liked your idea for simple table center pieces. Currently, I have an “old standby” center piece – a clear vase which holds pink and yellow artificial flowers. However, variety is nice. Your ideas have given me thoughts to try different table center pieces on occassion. 🙂


-Lady Rose

Audrey October 1, 2010

My mom taught me a little trick to remember where the silverware goes: “Fork” and “Left” have four letters…. “Knife”, “Spoon”, and “Right” have five!

Brandy October 2, 2010

I grew up in a home that grabbed plates, dished up food from pots on the stove, grabbed a fork, and went to sit on the couch to eat dinner while watching something on TV.

I didn’t know how to set a table. We rarely ever ate at the table.

And, honestly, if you were to ask me how to set a table right now, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Well, without peeking at the diagrams you posted lol.

Thank you for posting this! Our girls currently eat at the table (if the place was bigger, we’d ALL eat at the table). But now I think we’ll change things up a bit 😉

Jamie (@va_grown) October 7, 2010

Thanks for this post!

We’ve been doing it any which way, and I’ve just started making my 6 yr old do it herself. But this is going to make my little girl so excited–something she can learn to do that Mama doesn’t know yet!

Danielle B May 15, 2011

I’m sitting here chuckling! I was @ 2 brunches in 2 days. I thought for sure the water glass was to the left of you. And for some reason I thought your ice tea spoon was the one in front of your plate. If there a more formal, formal place setting where that is true? And there are more forks? Like the ones w/two prongs? For the record the first brunch, all the place settings were practically on top of one another. You were lucky if you had one spoon! the second brunch, I tried to say the water glass was on the wrong side! No wonder I always tried to use my right hand!

Boy, I’m just glad I knew to put my napkin in my lap. Glad I didn’t try and tell everyone what I “thought” I knew lol.

Danielle B May 15, 2011

Oh, and I always set our table using the informal diagram.

Danielle B May 15, 2011

Well minus putting the water glass on the wrong side lol.

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