How To Lay A Table

All of us think we know how to lay a dining table properly. Not so. Reading this book was an eye opener for us and we think you’ll love it too!

This is an excerpt from the book ‘Prepare and Serve a Meal and Interior Decoration’ by Lillian B. Lansdown. This is part of a series of such excerpts from old books made available by Project Gutenberg. The full text of the ebook is available with us. Please email if you would like a copy.

This excerpt is quite informative about proper table settings and is a treat to read.


Before the meal which is to be served comes from the kitchen by way of the butler’s pantry to the dining room, there are many things to be considered. The preparation of the meal (not the process of itsĀ  cooking, but its _planning_ as a composite whole) and all the various details which precede the actual sitting down at the table of those who expect to enjoy it, must be seen to. The preparation of the meal, its _menu_, will be dealt with later, in connection with the meal itself. For the present we will concentrate on its preparatory aspects.


The butler’s pantry is the connecting link between kitchen and dining room. It is at the same time an arsenal and a reserve line, equipped with requisites to meet all emergencies. The perfect butler’s pantry should contain everything, from vegetable brushes for cleaning celery to a galvanized refuse can. In between come matches, bread boards, soap, ammonia and washing soda, a dish drainer, every kind of towel, cheesecloth and holder, strainers (for tea, coffee and punch), ice water, punch and soup pitchers of enamel ware, the tools and seasonings for salad making, cut-glass brushes, and knives of different sizes. In the butler’s pantry the soiled linen should be kept, if possible in a hamper, if not, in a bag. There should also be a towel rack, an electric or hot-water heater for keeping food hot and–we are speaking of the ideal pantry, of course–a small icebox where table butter, cream and salad dressing may be kept, and plates chilled for serving cold dishes. Adding a linen closet with shelves, a chest of drawers (for tablecloths, napkins, doilies, centerpieces, etc.) and the necessary shelves for china and glass (hang your cups and save space!), and we may leave the butler’s pantry and enter the dining room.


We will not waste time on directions regarding the laying of the tablecloth. Only remember that it must form a true line through the center of the table (your “silence cloth” had best be of table padding, a doubled cotton flannel or asbestos) and not hang below the table less than nine inches. The usual arrangement of the centerpiece in the center of the table (the table itself being immediately under the light, unless the waitress is thereby prevented from moving between the table and sideboard) with its dish of fruit or ferns or flowers (never so high as to cut off view or conversation) can be varied to suit individual taste. But the covers (the plates, glasses, napkin and silver of each individual) must always be in line, opposite each other on the opposite sides of the table. The plate doilies indicate the covers when a bare table is laid. The service plate which each person receives stays where put unless it is replaced by a hot plate.


Napkins (fold flat and square) lie at the left of the forks. The hem of the napkin, turned up, should parallel the forks and the table edge. When dinner is served without a maid, everything yields to avoiding leaving the table. In that case put on the dessert silver (which otherwise should not be done) with the other dinner silver. Place all silver in its order of use, and remember that three forks are enough. If more are needed let them appear with the courses which demand them. The quietest and therefore most desirable way of putting the dessert silver on the table, is to serve it from a napkin, from the right. Knives should have their cutting edge toward the plate, at its right, and lie half an inch from the table edge. Spoons, bowls facing upward, lie at the right of the knife; forks at the left of the plate. When shell food is served (clams, oysters or mussels) the fork is placed at the right of the plate. The upper right-hand side of the bread and butter plate is the place for the butter spreader. In general do not arrange your cover too loosely, and see to it that the glass, china and silver for each cover sets close without the pieces touching. Glasses are placed just above the knives, a little to the right. Neither cups nor glasses should ever be filled to the brim. The bread and butter plate (bread and butter are, as a rule, _not_ served with _formal_ dinners) somewhat to the left, beyond the service plate. Between each two covers, or just in front of each, place your pepper and salt sets. The salt spoon lies across the open saltcellar. When the table is set for some impromptu meal at which a knife will not be used, the fork takes the place of the knife at the right-hand side, and the teaspoon is laid beside the fork.


No one wants to see the inner economy of the butler’s pantry, nor should the perhaps fragrant but cloying odors of the kitchen be wafted into the dining room whenever the swingdoor of the pantry opens or closes. The screen obviates both disadvantages. Another improvement has been the introduction of the serving table in place of the sideboard. It now conveniently holds all the extras needed for the meal.

By Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is a wellness coach who works with different aspects of lifestyle change towards the accomplishment of goals such as weight loss and blood sugar management among other health situations that require the presence of specialised, precise diets and lifestyle change. His methods address aspects of food, nutrition and the mind.