A well-dressed table can transform any dining experience. Whether you're hosting a fancy dinner party, Christmas dinner or simply want to enhance your everyday setup, learn how to tablescape with our guide.
What is tablescaping?
Tablescaping is all about creatively arranging and decorating a dining table to add a personalised touch to your meal setup. By selecting the right tableware, centrepieces, and decorative elements, you can create a setting that complements the atmosphere or theme of the night.
How to set the table
How to set the table for an everyday dinner
Whether it's pancakes for breakfast or your evening meal, when it comes to everyday dining, setting the table is fairly simple.
The basics you'll need include:
To set the table for an everyday meal, follow these steps:
Lay the placemat — Position a placemat in front of each chair, ensuring it's centred and an equal distance from the edges of the table.
Add the plate — Pop your dinner plate in the centre of your placemat. Again, this should be an equal distance from all sides of the placemat.
Position the napkin — For a simple table setting, you can fold your napkin in half and place it to the left of your dinner plate.
Set your cutlery — Place your fork to the left of your plate and the knife on the right, making sure the blade is facing inwards towards the plate. Then, position the spoon to the right of the knife, keeping it parallel.
Add your water glass — Position the water glass above the knife, ensuring it's within easy reach when seated.
Emma says, "of course, you can add your own personal touches to your dining table, like some coasters or a small centrepiece — maybe a vase of flowers or a candle. This can make your meal feel a little more special, even if it's just a quick midday tea!"
"Remember to check you have all the things you need for your meal, like salt and pepper or sauce dishes, within easy reach, so you don't have to keep getting up."
How to set the table for an informal meal
Setting the table for an informal meal doesn't require the fancy details of formal dining, but a touch of organisation can make any meal feel inviting. This informal setup is perfect for those spontaneous dinner parties with friends or a weekend family gathering.
Emma explains: "The only additions you'll need to a basic table setting for a informal meal are a side plate, soup bowl and wine. When stacking your dishes, the dinner plate comes first, followed by the side plate, and then topped with the soup bowl."
"But remember to only place what you'll use — if soup's not on the menu, there's no need for the soup bowl and spoon."
Emma tells us how to spruce up a dinner table without going over the top: "I like to mix in some natural textures and materials. Woven or wooden placemats and coasters give a cosy, rustic vibe, and a light cotton or linen runner provides an elegant yet uncomplicated backdrop. I prefer patterns like checked or stripes for casual occasions, as they add a touch of character without feeling too busy.”
How to set the table for formal events
For formal dinner parties, you'll probably be serving a three-course meal, so you'll need multiple sets of cutlery and plates.
Set your table up as you would a informal dinner, with the additions of:
- A tablecloth — Emma says, "a crisp white tablecloth can instantly lift the look of your table, giving it a clean and classic look that's perfect for formal settings. Plus, it helps protect your table from any spills and marks."
- Chargers (presentation plates) — Emma says, "the key difference between a informal and formal dinner table is the use of a presentation plate. They provide an elegant base for your plate but also enhance the overall aesthetic of the table setting." Place them directly beneath your dining plate or on top of a round placemat for added texture.
- Appetiser cutlery — Emma says, "if you're dishing up a starter, place your appetiser fork on the far left and knife on the far right next to the plate. This arrangement allows guests to work from the outside in with their utensils as courses progress."
- Bread plate and knife — This should be set to the top left of the dinner setting. The knife should be placed horizontally on the bread plate, with the blade facing towards the dinner plate.
- Dessert fork and spoon — These should be placed above the dinner plate horizontally. The fork should be closest to the plate, with its handle pointing to the left, followed by the spoon, with its handle pointing to the right.
- Wine glasses — "If you're serving a selection of different wines, ensure you have the appropriate glasses for each," says Emma. "Red wine glasses typically have a larger, rounder bowl to allow the wine to breathe, while white wine glasses are often narrower and taller. Place the red wine glass slightly above and to the right of the white wine glass. If you're also serving champagne or sparkling wine, add a flute to the mix, positioned to the right of the other wine glasses."
- Place cards — "Adding place cards for your guests brings a personalised touch, making your table setting even more memorable," says Emma.
Emma gives us his tips on elevating your dining table for a formal occasion: "I always like to add a centrepiece to my table for more sophisticated evenings. You can use fresh plants like ferns or eucalyptus arranged in clear glass vases of varying heights or even lay an arrangement of your plants along the centre of the table. Candles also work well at setting the mood. Just ensure they're not so tall that your guests can't see each other!"
"If you're really aiming to leave a lasting impression, consider folding your napkins into decorative shapes and setting them in the centre of the plates. It's a touch that will truly make your table stand out."
Top tips for dressing the table
1. Take inspiration from your tablecloth
Emma says, "if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed about where to begin with dressing your table, turn to your tablecloth as your starting point. Look at its colours and patterns, and let them guide you in choosing coordinating placemats, napkins, and other tableware."
"For example, a lace tablecloth might suggest a vintage or elegant theme, prompting you to choose classic china and more formal name card designs. In contrast, a cotton tablecloth with a gingham print might set a casual tone, leading you to select more laid-back dinnerware and handwritten name cards."
This approach makes it easy to pull everything together for a cohesive setup.
2. Keep it simple
Anyone who's hosted guests for dinner knows how stressful it can be, especially when juggling cooking timers and managing kitchen mess. Sometimes, setting the table feels like the last thing on your mind.
Emma says, "my advice is to keep it simple. Starting with a neutral tablecloth and simple napkins acts as the perfect foundation, and these will pair easily with most dinnerware."
"Once that foundation is set, you can add details like unique candle holders, a vase with a few fresh flowers, or themed place cards to elevate your table. Remember, it's the little touches that often make the biggest impact."
3. Dress your table around a centrepiece
When it comes to setting the table, having a centrepiece can make all the difference.
Emma explains: "Once you've chosen your centrepiece, build your table setting around it. Let its colours, texture, or theme guide your choices for napkins, placemats, and dinnerware. By starting with that central focus, everything else falls into place more naturally, and your table comes together with ease."
"Don't be afraid to play around with textures and layers when setting the table," says Emma.
"When arranging your dishes, cutlery, and glasses, it's always good to know the basics of etiquette. But don't let that stop you from getting creative. Mixing dishes from various sets and showcasing different patterns can create a visually stunning layered effect that adds a touch of character to your setup."
5. Match your tableware to your décor or setting
"When choosing tableware, consider the setting," says Emma. "If you're enjoying afternoon tea in the garden, let the colours of the flowers inspire your choices. You could use floral-patterned plates, cups, and fresh flowers as a centrepiece."
"Or, if your dining room has a vintage style, choose tableware that complements it. In this case, tableware like vintage wine glasses, cutlery with ornate handles and lace table runners will tie the whole look together."
Frequently asked questions
How should I decorate my dining table when not in use?
Emma explains, "even when you're not hosting a meal, your dining table can still be a focal point in the room. The trick is to decorate with items that can be easily moved when it's time to dine."
"Consider placing a sleek vase with dried flowers on the table. Even empty decorative vases can be eye-catching and add a nice touch all by themselves!"
"A decorative bowl filled with seasonal fruits is also an excellent choice for a pop of colour. Plus, it's practical — you can easily grab a healthy snack whenever you pass by!"
How do I fold a napkin for a table setting?
If you've never folded a napkin into a design before, it's best to start simple. The classic "pocket" fold is an easy yet elegant choice, perfect for laid-back and fancier dinners.
Here's how to do the pocket fold:
Lay it flat — Start with a clean, ironed napkin. Lay it flat on a smooth surface like a table.
Fold horizontally — Fold the napkin in half horizontally, with the open end facing away from you.
Fold vertically — Fold the napkin in half again, this time vertically, so you have a smaller square.
Create the pocket — With the open corner facing the top-right, fold the top layer down to the midpoint, forming a triangle.
Fold the sides — Take the right side of the triangle and fold it towards the centre. Do the same with the left side.
Final touch — Adjust the folds if necessary, making sure the pocket is visible at the top. You can now place cutlery or a decorative element inside the pocket.
Remember, practice makes perfect! With a little time and patience, you'll master this fold and can then explore more intricate designs.
How can I decorate the table with flowers?
Looking to freshen up your dining table? Flowers are a great choice.
Here are a few ways you can decorate the table with them:
- Centrepiece arrangement — Go for a classic look with a single large vase filled with a mix of seasonal flowers in the centre of the table. This can be tall and dramatic or low and spread out, but ensure it doesn't obstruct the view across the table.
- Individual bud vases — For a personal touch, place a single flower or a small bouquet in tiny vases at each place setting.
- Runner of greenery — Instead of one big centrepiece, lay out a runner of foliage or loose flowers down the centre of the table. This is especially pretty for long, rectangular tables.
- Floating florals — Fill a shallow dish or bowl with water and float a few blooms or petals in it. This looks especially beautiful with candlelight.
- Potted plants — Instead of cut flowers, use potted plants like succulents or herbs. They last longer and can be an excellent takeaway for guests after the event.
- Dried flowers — Opt for dried flower arrangements for a rustic touch. They're long-lasting and can add a unique texture to your table.
The best products for setting the table
Best for setting the scene: Mikasa Industrial Check Cotton and Linen Blend Table Runner
"This Mikasa table runner offers the perfect backdrop for your plates and glasses," explains Emma.
"The linen fabric gives it a natural, homey feel, and the check print adds a fun twist. It's great for everyday meals, making even a quick lunch feel a bit more special. And it's not just about the look - it keeps the table clean and scratch-free too."
Best for hosting large gatherings: Mikasa 12-Piece China Dinner Set
"This Mikasa dinner set is truly timeless, capable of bringing a fancy-restaurant feel to anyone's dining room," says Emma. "The dinner plates, side plates, and bowls all showcase a glossy white finish and a distinctive wide-rimmed design."
"The neutral finish serves as a versatile canvas for tablescaping, allowing your decorative themes and colours to shine through."
The set is also microwave and dishwasher-safe, making it perfect for everyday use.
Best for adding sophistication: Mikasa 16-Piece Faux Tortoise Shell Cutlery Set
"This Mikasa 16-piece cutlery set will elevate any dining setup," says Emma. "It pairs a stylish faux-tortoiseshell design with the warm glow of gold-coloured stainless steel that shines under the lights."
"Plus, it comes presented in an easy-to-wrap gift box, making it the perfect wedding or housewarming gift."
Best for displaying food: Artesa Appetiser Two Tier Serving Dome
Emma says, “this stunning Artesà two-tier serving dome not only beautifully showcases cakes, cheeses, and more, it also serves as a standout centrepiece for your tablescaping efforts, allowing you to serve food in style and impress your guests."
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Best for adding details: Mikasa 4-Piece Round Gold Placemat Set
"Add a touch of glamour to your dining experience with these Mikasa metallic placemats," says Emma. "These shimmering gold placemats are ideal for special occasions and elegant dinners and bring a touch of glitz and festive spirit to your Christmas dinner."
Best for enjoying drinks: Mikasa Treviso Crystal Red Wine Glasses, Set of Four
"These red wine glasses are made from superior quality crystal glass, and you'll notice how beautifully they catch the light with their crisp rims and long refined stems," says Emma.
"Whether you're using them every day or saving them for special moments, they're designed to last and look elegant. They're dishwasher safe too and don't need any special maintenance to keep them in pristine condition."
Best for adding a decorative touch: Artesà Cast Aluminium Gold Leaf Plate
Emma says, "add a touch of elegance to your table with this stunning leaf-shaped dish. It's made of cast aluminium with a beautiful gold finish, featuring intricate embossed detailing that complements your appetisers. Perfect for serving nuts or antipasti."
"When not in use, it can be displayed on your table as a stylish décor piece."
It's also super easy to clean — simply hand wash with your regular dishes and dry with a microfibre cloth to keep it sparkling!
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