Set A Proper Southern Table

November 15, 2012 | By | Comments (12)
Table Setting

Photo courtesy Oxmoor House

‘Fess up now: we know your momma raised you right, but did she tell you how to set a table – bread plates, dessert spoons and all? It’s something every good hostess should know, and we’re glad to see that the editors of Southern Living’s new Home Cooking Basics cookbook saw fit to include the information.  

We like the book for the dozens of step-by-step techniques, clear photos, and solid recipes, but we think the how-to on setting a table is equally important. After all, a special meal deserves special treatment.  We’ve posted the traditional place setting and list of serving pieces  from Home Cooking Basics so your Thanksgiving table (and all your future meals to come) will be picture perfect. Momma will be proud.

Match the numbers on the table setting above to this guide:

1. Butter Spreader This small knife is placed on the individual bread plate at each setting.

2. Bread Plate This individual plate is placed to the upper left of the dinner plate.

3. Salad Fork Diners use this fork for the salad course before dinner. It can also be used for desserts, appetizers, or other small foods. Place it on the left of the dinner fork.

4. Dinner Fork  This is used for the main dinner course. Place it on the left, closest to the plate.

5. Dessert Fork Always placed above the dinner plate, with the tines pointing to the left, this fork is intended for eating cakes, pies, and pastries that follow the main course. It looks a lot like a salad fork.

6. Dinner Knife This knife is used for the main dinner course but may also be used for spreading butter and/or condiments. Place it on the right, with the sharp side of the blade facing the plate.

7. Place Spoon Also known as a tablespoon, this versatile utensil may be used for soup, dessert, or cereal. It can even double as a serving spoon. Place it to the right of the knife.

8. Teaspoon This spoon is used for stirring coffee and tea and can also be used for dessert, soup, and cereal. Place it to the right of the tablespoon.

9. Wine (and water) Glasses Place these to the upper right of the dinner plate.

Serving Pieces

Photo courtesy Oxmoor House

Serving Pieces

10. Meat Fork Use this fork for serving meats, cheeses, and even some types of vegetables.

11. Sugar Shell This shell-shaped spoon is commonly used with a sugar bowl.

12. Table Serving Spoon This large spoon is used for serving vegetables.

13. Slotted Serving Spoon This spoon is very similar to a table serving spoon but offers holes in the bowl of the spoon to serve vegetables that need to be drained.

14. Butter Knife This is used to spread butter onto rolls and biscuits.

15. Pierced Table Spoon An alternative to a slotted serving spoon, the pierced edges of this spoon allow spearing of vegetables such as asparagus and green beans.

16. Gravy/Sauce Ladle Commonly 6 to 8 inches long, this ladle is used to serve sauces and gravies.

17. Pie/Cake Server This utensil is used to cut and serve pie and cake slices neatly and evenly.

Home Cooking BasicsYou can purchase Home Cooking Basics from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever books are sold.


  1. chulsey
    November 9, 2014 at 5:20 pm
  2. DR. LILL

    […] ♥ […]

    May 11, 2013 at 2:37 am
  3. Elizabeth F.

    I was taught that the napkin is to be placed to the left of the forks. (and do not place forks on top of it). Napkin is always to be folded where the fold is on left and the right bottom corner when lifted will unfold the napkin to be placed on your lap.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:19 pm
  4. Anne Marks

    We set our table different in the U.K our desert spoon in just above your desert fork. next to the plate Meat Fork & Knife, Fish & Fork & Knife. Salad Fork & Knife. Soup Spoon. Butter Knife on small plate to the top lest if one provided and is only for spreading never used for cutting !, there can also be a Oyster Fork ( if you like them )….3 glases 1 for White wine, 1 for Red and another for Water..

    Good Eating, Happy Christmas & All the Best for the coming Year to All..

    December 2, 2012 at 10:52 am
  5. Julia Beth Bolick

    @ Jane Denzinger > As stated, the butter knife is to be used to transfer the butter to the smaller dish/plate; AND also to butter individual pieces of bread broken from the bread located on said small dish/plate.

    November 27, 2012 at 2:28 am
  6. mypeachlife

    I love this. I was taught at an early age to remember “right runny and left lumpy” the right side of the plate has the spoons and drinks because they are “runny” and the left has the bread plate and fork since they are used for “lumpy” foods.

    November 25, 2012 at 6:51 pm
  7. Carroll leggett

    My understanding. Writer may have confused butter knife and butter spreader. Photos here are butter spreaders. Each person had a bread plate and a butter spreader (I probably would have called it a “butter knife,” also). Butter knives that are used to cut butter from the “common” piece of butter and place a portion on the individual bread plates often are rather strange looking creatures with an off set blade.They are larger than the butter spreaders at individual plates. I have seen butter knives without the off set blade, also.

    November 25, 2012 at 12:08 pm
  8. Carroll leggett

    Thank you, Aunt Stella, for teaching me how to set the table when I was a kid of seven or eight and living with her. She felt it was an important part of my education, Also thank her for my love of reading. Nightly ritual of sitting on the couch and reading. Red Pony. Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Some I remember.

    November 25, 2012 at 11:55 am
  9. Jane Denzinger

    In the segment about serving pieces the butter knife’s function is incorrectly identified. It’s function is to move butter from the butter dish onto the individual bread and butter plate.

    Then, the butter spreader is used to spread butter on the rolls or biscuits. The butter knife on the butter dish is never to be used to spread butter directly onto food as it is passed. It would be very unsanitary to do so and would hold up the passing of butter to all guests.

    Thanks for the illustrations. I am going to copy them and add them to my favorite cookbook – Southern Living.

    November 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm
  10. jjm193

    Thank you so much for printing this. I was taught at an early age how to properly set a table, and have found it to be a very important skill to me. It seems like today, we tend to lean toward more casual settings and I think a refresher for each of us is very appropriate. I personally feel that it is important to know how to set a table formally, as well as,knowing the proper etiquette that should be used by each person.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:37 am
  11. Leah Johnson

    My mom taught me at a very young age how to properly set a table. She also taught me proper etiquette, including which utensil to use at each course. I think these skills are extremely important and everyone should read this!

    November 19, 2012 at 10:00 pm
  12. stacyblaise

    Reblogged this on stacyblaise.

    November 15, 2012 at 5:45 pm

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