I often get my left and right confused, so it's not surprising that setting a table properly was a complete mystery to me before my years in food service. Working in restaurants drilled into my head how to set a table, and - whether you agree or not - I find it totally useful to this day when I'm quickly wanting to set up a table for a dinner party and have it all look good and organized. So I thought I'd put together some easy pointers and links to other good posts. Enjoy!
A Casual Setting
This is the everyday table setting and follows just a few rules that are built on for the fancier settings:
Plate - Right in the middle :)
Fork - To the left at 9:00
Knife & Spoon - To the right at 3:00 with the knife on the inside facing in (so the blade is safely towards the plate)
Glass - On the upper right at 1:00
Napkin - Underneath your forks, though you can technically play with your napkin and place it on plate or outside forks.
A Fancy Setting
Built off of the above, this roadmap allows for all the other utensils needed at a fancy meal and follows the guide that you start on the outside and move inwards towards the plate during the course of the meal.
Plates - In the middle with the smallest stacked on top, so that you have Charger under Entree Plate under Appetizer Plate. In this fashion each plate can be cleared and leave you with a new, clean one below. Bread plate goes to the top left at 10:00 with knife fork ON it.
Flatware - Forks go on the left at 9:00 with the smallest on the outside (dinner, salad and then fish fork). Knife goes on the right with spoons at 3:00 with the smallest spoons on the outside (soup and then fruit spoon)
Any flatware used for dessert goes at the top at 12:00 (dessert spoon and fork)
Glasses - Red or wine (or both) glasses are placed at the upper right at 1:00 with water and/or champagne above that to the left. I typically have only a water and wine glass, but you can provide lots of options here for your guests if you wish and then remove what they don't use.
Napkin - I always like to have the napkin under the forks to the left, but it is proper to have the napkin actually on the dinner plate. Either way, just don't stuff the napkin in the wine glass and try to make it look like a swan.
An entire generation picked up this knowledge not through Martha, but through Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman... here's the reference:
More Sources For Table Setting
(Image credits: Maxwell Ryan)