Setting Pretty: How to Set a Perfect Holiday Table

“Your personalized dining styles will lend warmth and spirit to your holidays.”

You’ve trimmed the tree, chilled the champagne, and the meal is ready to enjoy. You’re ready to host the family holiday dinner until you spot the empty dining room table. It’s time to set the table, but you don’t have any clue where to begin. What silverware goes on what side? Where does a wine glass sit? Don’t panic – we’ll break down the basics of setting the perfect holiday table. 

A simple yet elegant centerpiece, changed out to reflect the appropriate season, is one of the more effortless ways to have greenery or a floral arrangement act as an attractive focal point. This charming layered arrangement of pine cones, feathers, and dried florals nestles a pair of flickering candles, providing a simple and sheltered lighting element for this intimate table for two. A couple of pears add appealing elements of design interest for the holidays.


For a formal table setting, each utensil has a designated place. Forks—the salad and dinner forks—should be on the left side of the plate with the salad fork on the outside; spoons and knives on the right side. Place the knife with the blade facing in, closest to the plate, while the spoon sits outside the knife. Need an easy way to remember this? Left is a four-letter word, and so is fork, reminding you to set your fork on the “left.” Right, a five-letter word like spoon and knife reminds you to place these utensils on the right. Using a dessert spoon? Place the spoon horizontally above the plate with its handle facing right. 


Holiday dinners are the time to break out the good china! Depending on your meal, you may need a salad plate and a soup bowl. The salad plate would sit directly on the dinner plate, with the soup bowl set on top of the salad plate. Set this at the left corner just above the forks if using a bread plate. Another helpful reminder for this? Put your index finger to your thumb on your left hand to form a lowercase “b” for bread. You’ll always remember to put the bread plate on the left. 


Water and wine glasses should sit at the right corner of a place setting. Much like your reminder for the bread plate, forming a “d” with your index finger and thumb on your right hand can help you remember where to set the “drinks.” Place the water glass above the knife, with the white wine, and red wine glasses set just to the outside of the water glass. Since guests will likely enjoy white wine first, this glass should sit closer with the red wine glass set behind it.

Dea Ann Kuhn’s masterful stroke of simple elegance is seen in placing a single and simple handmade Christmas-Tree copper cookie cutter atop each of her plates—a delightfully unique finishing touch—at her “Together in Winter” entry in the 2017 Holiday Tables at MARK Arts.


To indeed have a formal place setting, use cloth napkins. Since a napkin should be the first piece handled before a meal, it should sit on top of the plate. There are many ways to beautifully fold a cloth napkin from a fan fold to a pyramid. Follow an instructional video online to master your preferred napkin shape. If folding napkins seems a little intimidating, an easy way to elegantly style your napkins is to use napkin rings. Pinch the middle of a napkin and pull it through the ring. Fluff the top and bottom of the napkin and place it on top of the plate—voila!

—By Sasha Kuchinski, photography by Patrick Wherritt.