This is a question that I am often asked as people host their first more formal dinner party. It is actually quite simple and practical.
Everything goes in the order that it would be used.
Start by placing the dinner plate at the center of that guest’s place setting. Place the salad plate on top (this could also be a charger underneath the dinner plate, either way). Next place the napkin to the left of the plate (the napkin could also be placed on top of the plates) with the dinner fork closest to the plate, then the salad or appetizer fork on the outside. On the right, the knife goes closest to the plate and the spoon on the outside. Water and wine glasses go above the knife with the wine glass closest to the guests right hand (just think, you want them to drink more wine so you put the glass in a more easily accessible place).
The bread and butter plate and butter knife go either above the forks or to the left of the forks. As for dessert cutlery, the easiest way to remember is that the pieces would slide down into the correct position for usage by the correct hand. Meaning, the bottom of the dessert fork is on the left and the bottom of the dessert spoon is on the right.
For a more elaborate table setting from the Emily Post Institute,
The below illustration is from The Emily Post Institute
- Service Plate: This large plate, also called a charger, serves as an underplate for the plate holding the first course, which will be brought to the table. When the first course is cleared, the service plate remains until the plate holding the entrée is served, at which point the two plates are exchanged. The charger may serve as the underplate for several courses which precede the entrée.
- Butter plate: The small butter plate is placed above the forks at the left of the place setting.
- Dinner fork: The largest of the forks, also called the place fork, it is placed on the left of the plate. Other smaller forks for other courses are arranged to the left or right of the dinner fork, according to when they will be used.
- Fish fork: If there is a fish course, this small fork is placed farthest to the left of the dinner fork because it is the first fork used.
- Salad fork: If salad is served after the entrée, the small salad fork is placed to the right of the dinner fork, next to the plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the forks would be arranged (left to right): salad fork, fish fork, dinner fork.
- Dinner knife: The large dinner knife is placed to the right of the dinner plate.
- Fish knife: The specially shaped fish knife goes to the right of the dinner knife.
- Salad knife: (Note: there is no salad knife in the illustration.) If used, according to the above menu, it would be placed to the left of the dinner knife, next to the dinner plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the knives would be arranged (left to right):dinner knife, fish knife, salad knife.
- Soup spoon or fruit spoon: If soup or fruit is served as a first course, then the accompanying spoon goes to the right of the knives.
- Oyster fork: If shellfish are to be served, the oyster fork is set to the right of the spoons. Note: It is the only fork ever placed on the right of the plate.
- Butter knife: This small spreader is paced diagonally on top of the butter plate, handle on the right and blade down.
- Glasses: These can number up to five and are placed so that the smaller ones are in front. The water goblet (la) is placed directly above the knives. Just to the right goes a champagne flute (lb); In front of these are placed a red (lc) and/or white (ld) wine glass and a sherry glass (le)
- Napkin: The napkin is placed on top of the charger (if one is used) or in the space for the plate.