French Table Setting

Here are a few rules for French table setting that I thought you might enjoy. In our house we do not set the table formally everyday, nor even when we have company. However, we do opt for a simplified version of these rules and it is always useful to know the positioning of plates, utensils, napkins and the rest, in case you are invited to a formal dinner or dine at an elegant restaurant.

If you are interested, here you can learn more about French Table Manners.

Silverware Placement

  • In French table setting, eating utensils, or les couverts, are placed in the order in which you will be using them. The utensils furthest from the plate are the ones you will use first.
  • The forks are placed to the left of the plate (doesn't that irritate all of you right-handed people?) either with the tines pointing down, called à la française - French style, or with the tines pointing up, à l'anglaise - English style.
  • The knife, or possibly knives, are placed to the right of the plate with the cutting surfaces pointing towards the plate.
  • The spoon, once again placed either face down or up, depending if you want to do it French or English style, is placed to the right of the knife.
  • At more informal dinners a dessert spoon will be placed above the plate. At more formal affairs, it will be brought with the dessert.
  • You may also find oyster forks or fondue forks next to the knife, or snail tongs next to the fork.

Plates and Napkins

  • The napkins are placed on the left or on the plate itself, perhaps folded in a triangle.
  • At a formal French dinner, there will be an abundance of courses and therefore plates. Each course will make its appearance on its own plate. Sometimes there will be a bread plate, to the left, and a salad plate, to the right, already on the table at the start of the meal. Don't be alarmed if there is no bread plate, normally you can just put the bread on the table.
  • A pretty touch you will see at elegant dinners is a large charger plate that is only removed from the table when the main course is served. It might be in silver or brass.

The Glasses

In French table setting the largest "wine" glass on the table is reserved for water, and it is usually placed on the left. The other glasses are placed to the right of it, in descending order of size. The second largest glass will be for red wine, the third largest for white. You may find a small glass for liqueur or a champagne flute as well.

The People - Seating Arrangement

  • The host and hostess should sit at either end of the table. The exception to this is if you happen to have the President as a guest, in which case you can seat him at the end of the table!
  • To the right and left of the hostess, go the most honored male guests and to the right and left of the host, the most honored female guests. It's up to you to decide who's the most honorable.
  • Husband and wives are not seated together, unless they have been recently married. On the other hand, fiances are always seated together. Finally, spouses shouldn't be seated facing one another.
  • That's a lot of rules that I imagine in most cases you can't completely follow. If in doubt, fall back on common sense and don't seat two best friends together or two people who have a hard time staying out of arguments.

And now that your French table setting is in place and everyone is seated, don't forget what comes at the very beginning of most every French meal, formal or informal:

Bon Appétit!

Update: I have since learned that I was quite wrong about this. You do frequently hear people wish each other "bon appétit", and waiters will even say it to you when you are served, but it is considered rather crass. Supposedly this expression is too directly related to digestion to be bandied about in polite society!

Return from French table setting to French traditions.

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