How to Set an Elegant Table For a Casual Dinner Party

Saffron Marigold - Updated: May 24, 2022

PSA: You don’t need to break the bank or put yourself under immense pressure when learning how to set a table for a dinner party. An elegant, but casual dinner party table setting is possible with just a smart set of table linen, versatile flatware and dinnerware, and strategic decor choices. Here’s everything you need to know for a casual dinner party table setting that’ll take you through spring, summer, fall, and the holidays.

Take a deep breath. We’re here to show you that throwing a dinner party is enjoyable!

What makes a table setting casual yet elegant?

A table setting with the essentials—a spoon, dinner knife, dinner fork, napkin, dinner plate, and glass—plus coordinating table linen makes for a casual, yet elegant dinner setting.

Photo by Karen Sewell

With your table setting bases covered, it’s time to add personality with small touches like customized dinner cards, coordinating table centerpieces, and on-theme cartes du jour.

What to do before making a dinner party table setting

1. Pick a theme

A theme allows you to connect your table linen, menu, and dinnerware. This can take some stress out of planning a dinner by narrowing down your decor choices to a select few. That way, you can eliminate decision fatigue—you have plenty of other work to do to like figure out how to set a table for your dinner party!

Table setting ideas for a dinner party

Other unique table ideas for a dinner party include Rustic Cottage Harvest Supper, Bohemian Bash, Worldwide Cuisine, Floral Affair, Contemporary Classic, and Retro Rendezvous.

Modern Supper Club Dinner Party Table Setting

Take your best friends to a 1930s supper club with a casual dinner party table setting. On-brand, luxurious entrées include lobster, prime rib, and classic American sides like mashed potatoes, wedge salad, and bread rolls.

Kathy Kuo Home

MATCH Modern Convivo White Ceramic Round Centerpiece

Handmade in Italy out of ceramic and pewter, this modern table decor is great for a minimalist, modern feel. It doubles as a fruit or produce vessel, to boot.

Saffron Marigold

Midnight Lotus ~ Blue and White Floral party Dinner Napkins

This coordinating print is displayed on soft cotton, perfect for wiping away stray sauces and crumbs. The blue and white combo and lotus-laden pattern match the Midnight Lotus tablecloth for a cohesive theme.

Crate & Barrel

Aero Mirror 20-Piece Flatware Set

Thin handles and a reflective finish make this flatware set a fitting choice for your modern dinner party table setting. Stainless steel and dishwasher-safe, this hand-finished collection is sure to wow your friends and family.

Mediterranean Marvel Dinner Party Table Setting

A Mediterranean dinner party table setting is chock-full of ocean tones, natural decor, and a flavorful taste palette. Best of all, a Mediterranean-inspired table setting idea for a dinner party looks especially wonderful outdoors or during the daytime.

Late afternoon cocktails can parlay into a sunset dinner on your patio—pile on the magic with outdoor string lights and ambient music.

Burke Decor

White Lattice Ginger Jar with Lid in Various Sizes

Fresh Moroccan roses are beautiful, but not always available. Instead, this set inspired by Moroccan latticework offers up style and pragmatism for your casual dinner party table setting.

Saffron Marigold

Mosaique Bleue ~ Table Placemats (Set of 6)

To go with your multicolor tablecloth, try this coordinating print. Washable and durable, this canvas placemat is a reliable table linen for everyday use. Goodbye, disposable napkins!


Hand Made and Hand Painted Tagine Pot

Serve up a classic cucumber and tomato salad in this iconic ceramic serving tagine, or use it as an eye-catching decor piece in the kitchen. It’s also an amazing cooking pot for stews, its namesake dish.

Understated Glamour Dinner Party Table Setting

Perhaps nothing captures the casual, yet elegant vibe more than an understated glamour theme. Ornate finishes, showstopping—but never showy—centerpieces, and sophisticated table linen set the stage for your restaurant-worthy meal.

Darby Creek Trading

White Magnolia Blossom Branch Centerpiece Water Illusion Arrangement in Oval Pocket Vase

Made to order and fitting for any tabletop, this breathtaking centerpiece is all you need for an understated dinner party table setting. The faux, clear resin water and luxury glass establish the tone for your invite-only dinner party.

Saffron Marigold

Red Poppy ~ Elegant Floral Cotton Dinner Table Napkins

The ogee print on Vanilla Glace matches the latticework or jaal on Red Poppy. What’s more, the delicate blossoms and orange border add color to your otherwise monochrome color scheme.


Blue Bay White 12-Piece Dinnerware Set

Introduce just a touch of ornate embellishment with the gold trim and a crimped texture in this dinnerware set. The hint of gold calls back to the golden shades on Vanilla Glace and Red Poppy.

2. Choose your table linen

A set of table linen can drastically improve any casual dinner party table setting. Choose from round or rectangular tablecloths and table runners to complete your look.

Table cloths

Table cloths achieve a few purposes, including keeping your table from accruing wear and tear, and making your table setting look more photogenic. You’ll want to keep all the memories from special events, after all!

Rectangular Tablecloths

Our rectangular tablecloths are available in three sizes: 70 x 90, 70 x 108, and 70 x 120 inches.

Shop All Rectangular Tablecloths »

Round Tablecloths

Our round tablecloths are available in 70 and 90 inches across.

Shop All Round Tablecloths »

Table Runners

Our table runners are 18 x 90, 80 x 108, and 18 x 120 inches.

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Dinner napkins

Our cotton dinner table napkins are 20 x 20 inches. Good news is this size is an adaptable one for various napkin folds that’ll impress your dinner guests before your famous casserole even reaches their plate.

Shop All Cotton Cloth Napkins »


Our canvas placemats are 15 x 20 inches. This is a slightly larger size than the standard 12 x 18 inches, which is ideal for accommodating formal table settings. Plenty of room for that soup bowl, wine glass, and extra utensils just in case you want to host an adults-only night.

Shop All Fabric Placemats »

3. Build out your menu

Besides mastering how to set a table for a dinner party, you’ll need to finalize your menu if it’s a special occasion. Start with the appetizers, if any, and work your way through dessert. Shareable apps, dishes, and sweets may be best if you plan to keep the dishware to a minimum.

Think appetizers you can make in bulk, dishes you can make in a large pan, and desserts that can be cut into individual servings. Some ideas that come to mind are stuffed olives, pasta, and pies, relatively.

4. Choose your flatware

When it comes to durable, elegant, and casual flatware, silver and steel may be the best choices. Sterling silver, stainless steel, titanium-plated, and silver-plated utensils are versatile additions to any table setting.

Composites made of nickel and chromium are common, with stainless steel making up the bulk of the utensil makeup. Other finishes you might consider are gold, rose gold, black, brass, bronze, or copper.

Finally, more decorative flatware may feature handles made of different materials such as resin, plastic, or wood.

Additional flatware you might use for multi-course meals is a dessert fork, dessert spoon, fish knife, fish fork, soup spoon, butter knife, teaspoon, salad fork, and steak knife.

5. Choose your dishes

Chances are, you have a few dinnerware sets at your disposal already. If you’re looking for a go-to set you can whip out for every casual dinner party table setting, choose sets in neutrals like white, off-white, or blue.

Melamine, ceramic, porcelain, bone china, and stoneware are all durable and suitable for everyday use.

West Elm

Aaron Probyn Melamine Dinnerware

This melamine set is a perfect starter set that includes dinner plates, salad plates, pasta bowls, and cereal bowls. Plus, the modern shape and lips accommodate most dinner party themes. Other plain colors include pearl gray, silver pine, and citrus yellow.

Kansona Design

Kyoto Earth Ware Plate Set

Looking for something that feels more traditional? This Japanese ceramic set includes a bowl, cup, appetizer plate, and dinner plate. This set would look fantastic with any of our rustic prints like Pacific Blue or Ruby Kilim.

Jono Pandolfi

Coupe 4-Piece Place Setting

With an entrée plate, salad plate, and two bowls, this handmade set is good for any meal of the day. The stoneware pieces feature a white-glazed inner with a blue band and an unglazed outer in a toasted sand shade.

6. Put on the finishing touches

Decorative elements help you transform a casual dinner table setting into something more extraordinary. Dinner candles instantly make your table setting feel more refined. In general, soy, beeswax, paraffin, and soy wax burn cleanly and evenly. Other classic pieces are decorative trays, flower vases, and botanical table runners.


Weston Table

MATCH Pewter Bud Vase

A classic table setting decor with a fresh twist, this handmade, metallic vase from Italy elevates a casual dinner party. It’s perfect for holding a handful of dried or fresh blossoms.

Quick Candles

Richland Cosmos Gold Candelabra

To show off your hand painted candles, an equally classy candleholder is necessary. Best used in contemporary dining rooms, this golden candelabra vies for your guests’ attention and compliments.

Joss & Main

Zephyr Marble Oval Decorative Bowl

Versatility is one of your main concerns with an elegant, but casual dinner party table setting. A decorative tray like this marble piece grants you options for displaying everything from seasonal organic decor (foraged branches, mini pumpkins, dried flowers, etc.) to artistic trinkets from your travels.

Steps to setting a table

1. Lay out your placemat (if you have one)

If you don’t use a tablecloth, a placemat is a good idea to provide a buffer between hot plates and your table’s surface.

2. Place your dinner plate on the center of your placemat

A placemat is a great anchor for your dinnerware and flatware. Beyond that, fabric placemats are arguably more fashionable and elegant than vinyl or other plastic types.

3. Put your fork to the left of the dinner plate atop a dinner napkin

Tip: Your dinner napkin may also rest on top of the dinner plate if they are folded or placed inside a napkin ring.

4. Put your dinner knife and spoon to the right of your dinner plate, the dinner knife closer to the plate

Still, a dinner knife may not be necessary depending on your dinner menu.

5. Place your glass on the top right side of your placemat, above the dinner plate

This glass is typically filled with water, though juices or alcoholic beverages can be served, too. Don’t forget to coordinate your beverages with your menu to give your dinner meal that special something!