When I hosted my first dinner party, I didn't know table setting was a thing. I set out a stack of plates, napkins, and silverware, expecting guests to serve themselves. They looked at me helplessly. Only later did I realize that French hostesses plate food and set the table accordingly.
Formal settings dictate a charger underneath the serving plate; informal settings include a bread plate and knife above the forks. For the sake of minimalism, I've pared these down to the very basics (click each photo to enlarge). To get really fancy, you can use up to five glasses- for sherry, champagne, etc.- plus separate utensils for fish and shellfish.
If our tableware looks a little Nietzschean, that's because it is. We use Arne Jacobsen for Georg Jensen flatware, as popularized in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I found my set on eBay, but my aunt gifted us matching serving pieces. They're a dream to eat with, and because it's a timeless style, finding replacements or duplicates is easy. Square white stoneware is my personal preference. The plates present food beautifully, while recycled glassware allow liquids to pop visually.
Setting the Table: Etiquette
Basic table setting
Place utensils one inch from the table's edge, outside in by order of use. Knife blades face the plate, and the water glass sits above the knife. Spoons go to the right of the knives, while forks sit at the left of the plate.
Informal table setting
Add a wineglass, teacup/saucer, salad fork, salad bowl, and dessert spoon. Suitable for brunch and three-course meals.
Formal place setting
For three courses or more. No more than three of any utensil should ever be placed on the table at one time. Place cards sit above the dessert spoon and cake fork.