The everyday table
After a busy day, you need a fast, easy approach, so set out only the items you are going to use: Fork on the left, knife on the right, dinner plate and napkin in the middle, drinking glass to the upper right. If you're not going to need a spoon, why throw your utensilary pearls before swine? Some unwitting diner will inevitably knock it on the floor when grabbing for the last slice of pizza and then you'll have to wash it anyway. And no sporks. Ever.
The casual dinner table
For gatherings that are special but still cozy, this approach starts with the basic everyday setting above and adds a salad or bread plate with butter knife on the upper left, wine goblet next to the water glass on the upper right, and napkin to the side. Note that the knife blade always faces in—toward the diner and away from other guests. This symbolically reassures one's neighbor to the right that one does not secretly wish them harm.
The elegant dinner table
Building on the casual dinner setting, add a charger beneath the dinner plate for instant glamour, then position the dessert spoon and fork horizontally and head-to-tail above. A smaller salad fork is placed to the left of the dinner fork. Rule of thumb: Always begin dining with the outside utensil and work your way in, no matter how many pieces there are. When in doubt, look to your host or hostess with big, pleading puppy eyes and shrug your shoulders.
Setting up a Buffet
This table-setting business is all well and good if you're having a sit-down dinner. But what about a buffet? Is there no handy diagram for that easy-on-the-hostess approach to dinner parties? Glad you asked.
If you still want to keep your dining table for seating, you can set your buffet around a kitchen island or adapt it to a sideboard or kitchen counter.