Understanding formal dining settings can be important to the prop master who strives for historical and cultural accuracy. If a play, film or television show calls for characters to dine in a formalized setting, the amount of plates, utensils and glasses involved are numerous and often not laid out in the script. Following the conventions of formal dining settings help establish the time and place and flesh out the characters (not to mention giving the actors something to do in the scene). Many audience members will recognize when proper formal dining procedures are not followed.
Below is an image of a “typical” formal dining setting. By “typical”, I mean a contemporary style used in Western/Anglo-Saxon cultural settings. It can of course vary depending on the food being served and the level of formality, as well as by cultural and regional specifics. Nonetheless, the basic style presented in the picture below is relatively standard from the Edwardian period (1901-1910) to the present.
Careful research is always needed for recreating any sort of historical dinner settings. Before 1900, table settings differed much more between the countries of Western Europe, though formalized dinner settings in general have been practiced as far back as medieval times.