How to Set a Table with Napkins for Simple to Formal Place Settings

How to Set a Table with Napkins for Simple to Formal Place Settings


When setting the table before company comes over, do you often fret over frivolous questions like What side do napkins go on? You’re not alone! Mastering the craft of table settings is a learned skill that may seem confusing at first, but it can be easy and fun once you understand the fundamentals, and we are here to help.

From low-key gatherings to special occasions, simple decisions about the way you fold and place your napkins can transform boring or haphazard place settings into memorable, standout tablescapes in no time. So, let’s dive into the art of napkin folding and types of table settings as we explore practical tips and creative ideas to impress your guests, making you the host with the most!

table setting with napkins, plates, and flowers

Why Table Settings Matter

Table setting is more than just napkin and fork placement; it sets the tone for your gathering and shows your guests that you've put thought and care into their experience.

Knowing how to properly create table settings with napkins may seem like a minor detail, but it can greatly impact your dining experience for both you and your guests. Paying attention to the placement and presentation of your napkins can elevate your table setting and make your guests feel appreciated.

A thoughtfully set table is also an opportunity to show off your style and creativity, adding a unique tone to your dining space and the occasion.

Aside from the aesthetic angle, knowing how to set a table with napkins also serves a practical purpose. Properly placed napkins and utensils can make it easier for guests to enjoy their meals, ensuring everything is within reach — no elbow wrestling here!

As if you weren’t already convinced, it’s also worth noting that a table set with intention can even help facilitate conversation and create a more comfortable and inviting atmosphere for your guests. It’s time to dig into the details so you can become a table-setting pro!

table setting with napkins, red flowers, and tall candles

How to Set a Table with Napkins: 3 Essential Table Settings

There are three fundamental table settings that will come in handy for pretty much any occasion you plan to host. Once you grasp the basics of these settings, the sky's the limit.

1. Simple Table Settings

Simple table settings are the perfect option when it comes to everyday meals for you, your family, or a casual gathering for a small group of friends. Basic, yet thoughtful, a simple table setting provides everything you need for a comfortable dining experience without being over the top.

As you prepare to set your table, a great question to consider is, which side of the plate does the napkin go on? You may be surprised to learn that conquering table-setting napkin placement can be a game-changer for making a low-key meal feel more significant. For a simple table setting, we recommend placing your napkin to the left of the plate instead of on top so you and your guests can dig into the meal as soon as possible. This is especially crucial when hungry kids are joining. When it comes to how to place napkins on tables, you can opt for standard rectangle folds or sideways triangles for a more playful style.

The beauty of a simple place setting is that you don’t need to incorporate extra silverware (a win-win later on during the dishwashing segment of the meal). If your meal calls for a fork, we recommend placing it on the napkin. If you need a spoon or knife, those can go to the right of the plate, with the spoon on the outside and the knife blade facing inward. Slide a casual placemat underneath and add a beverage to the top right. Voila — you have crafted a simple but welcoming table setting. 

Now that you know how to set a table with napkins for a simple setting, let’s see what a more traditional style would entail.

simple table seting with napkins, candles, flowers, and cutlery

2. Classic Table Settings

A classic table setting is perfect for a relaxed meal with friends and family when you want it to be memorable without ostentation. While less formal than a special occasion setting, a classic table setting should still provide a stylish and inviting atmosphere with an element of unique flair.

As far as proper napkin placement goes in a classic table setting, it can be placed to the left of the plate or knotted on top of the plate for a modernized touch. Check out our tutorial to learn how to fold napkins into clever shapes that impress your guests.

Unlike the simple table setting, the classic table setting requires all utensils to be included, with a dinner fork to the left of the plate and a dinner knife to the right, with the blade facing the plate. A soup spoon or teaspoon can be placed to the right of the knife. The dinner plate is usually placed in the center of the setting, with any additional plates (bread, salad, etc.) stacked on top if needed. A water glass is placed above the knife, and any additional glassware, such as a wine glass, can be added to the right of the water glass. 

Now that you have the intel to nail the classic table setting, let’s take a look at what it would take to level up to table settings for more formal occasions.

outdoor table setting with red napkins, green glasses, and a floral centerpiece

3. Formal Table Settings

A formal table setting is ideal for special events and elegant dinners. More elaborate than the simple and classic table settings, a formal table calls for additional elements, like candles, florals, tablecloths, and centerpieces, to create a truly sophisticated look.

For a formal occasion, the napkin place setting is an opportunity to make a statement. You’ll often see cloth napkins twisted into intricate folds with hidden tucks and pockets for silverware — or even designs that match the event theme (like a tuxedo-style fold for a wedding!). 

You can also get creative with where the napkin is placed. Try putting a napkin with a chic twist at the plate’s 10 o’clock or allow its elaborate fold to consume the entire plate for a more dramatic presentation. The creative possibilities are endless when it comes to napkin placement for formal table settings — the one stipulation is that they all must match precisely for a clean and elegant effect.

The formal table setting includes a complete set of utensils for each course, arranged in the order they will be used. This typically consists of a salad fork, dinner fork, soup spoon, dinner knife, and a dessert fork or spoon. The classic rule of thumb for remembering which utensil to use and when is to start from the outside and work inward toward the plate with each course.

The dinner plate is often placed in the center of the setting, with a bread plate anchored above the forks and slightly left and a butter knife resting on top at a horizontal angle. 

A water glass is placed above the knife, with additional glassware for wine or other beverages arranged to the right and just above the water glass.

Another departure from the simple or classic table settings is that formal table settings with napkins almost always call for cloth napkins for a more upscale look and feel.

table setting with napkins, glassware, and floral decor

Add Flair with Your Bold Napkin Choices

Now that you know how to set a table with cloth napkins, you must decide which ones are the best fit for your occasion. Here are our favorite styles of napkins that work for a variety of settings:

  • Satin & Taffeta Cloth Napkins: Made from classic satin or taffeta fabric, these napkins have a smooth and shiny texture. They are perfect for formal dining settings and add a dash of elegance to any table.
  • Sparkly Shimmer & Sequin Napkins: These napkins are attention-grabbing and loud in the best way. They’re great for fancy and festive occasions such as weddings, significant milestones, and holiday celebrations.
  • Polyester Cloth Napkins: Polyester napkins are known for their durability, affordability, and easy maintenance. They’re available in a wide range of colors and patterns and are suitable for classic and formal table settings.
  • Gauze Cheesecloth Cloth Napkins: Gauze cheesecloth napkins offer a whimsical, textured look for a fairytale feel. They are an excellent fit for romantic occasions and add an organic essence to any table setting.
  • Velvet & Flocking Cloth Napkins: Velvet napkins have a luxurious and plush texture, adding an unmatched air of sophistication to any occasion. These napkins help create iconic table settings for black-tie events and fancy celebrations.
  • Burlap Cloth Napkins: Burlap napkins are often made from natural jute fibers and help to create a rustic and earthy vibe. They are frequently used in country or farmhouse-style settings to add low-key charm to the table.
  • Airlaid Paper Napkins: Airlaid paper napkins have a cloth-like feel and are highly absorbent. They are ideal for events where convenience is key, as they can be disposed of after use. We recommend saving these napkins for your simple or classic table settings and forgoing them for more formal events.

Each of our napkin collections comes in a variety of colors, sizes, and styles to suit different preferences and occasions, so there is something for everyone! 

Table setting with napkins, cups, and plates on a blue white checkered tablecloth

Set a Stunning Table with Napkins from eFavormart

Whether preparing for an easy night in with your family, an elevated evening with friends, or a full-blown formal extravaganza, you now know how to set a table with napkins for all of the above. You’ll just need a variety of napkin styles and additional decorative items to bring your vision to life! 

Explore eFavormart's extensive selection of table linens, lighting and candles, artificial flowers and greenery, charger plates, and disposable dinnerware to get the ambiance just right for your event. Now, let your creativity run wild and set your table in style!