Return to site

A guide to formal French table setting

How to prepare a formal French table setting

· French Etiquette

A good French meal always starts with a beautiful and neat table setting and decoration. 

The history of fork can be traced back to 350 AD and it took a long time to boost the popularity in France. During the Middle-Age, French people still got used to having meals with a large knife and a wooden plate.

During the Renaissance, the King of France Louis XIV started to use forks for decoration and showed them to the guests. But when it came to eat, he still insisted on using his fingers. Also, the glasses were not presented on the table. 

In the 18th century, fork has become widely used in France and table setting rules kept evolving. Today, we’ll take a deeper look at how it looks like today!

The traditional French table setting

Traditionally, the position of each item depends on the service order of the dishes which compose the menu. 

Let’s imagine that you are preparing the table for the following menu you will serve tonight to your guests: first, a soup as the starter, then, fish, then lamb as a second main dish, and finally dessert.

The most important rule that you need to know is that we always start by using the cutlery placed the most outside from the plate. Then we work our way in, dish after dish.

Table setting step by step 

Dinner plate: It is placed one thumb away from the table edge. You can put a nice display plate on it for decoration.

Main fork: It should be placed on the left side of the dinner plate with the fork tines facing down.

Fish fork: Put it next to the fork, on the left.

Meat knife: Needs to be placed right to the plate and the blade should be turned inside. 

Fish knife: It’s not sharp and should be placed on the right to the meat knife.

Soup spoon: Put it face down and set right to the fish knife.

Bread plate: It should be set on the top left corner with a butter knife on it.

Dessert spoon & fork: Will be placed on the top of the plate.

Glasses: Place them on the top right corner of the plate, with champagne glass outside and wine glass inside. Behind would be the water glass.

Napkin: It is normally put in the plate or on the left side of the fork.

The above table setting standard is reserved to formal occasions and in casual occassions, you'll find less cutlery on table. As for most restaurants, they will offer cutlery on one side of the plate as most customers are not aware of these rules and it would be convenient for them.

You are now ready to host your next French dinner, or to join one as a mannerly guest!

Founded in 2018 by Matthieu Ventelon, Hedonia is the first institution in China combining professional Wine and Etiquette expertise in the same training offer.

Find more information on our website :

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!