Guide to Table Etiquette: How To Place Wine and Water Glasses On A Dinner Table

How To Place Wine and Water Glasses On A Dinner Table

The placement of your wine and water glasses on the table is important. The rules guiding their position are not often discussed but can be confusing if you don’t know them. Here, we will take a look at some of the most common set-ups you see in restaurants and bars, and how to correctly place your own glasses at home.

Table Setting 101

What is the purpose of your wine glasses, anyway? Wine glasses (we’ll say “glass”) were originally designed for the exact purpose that they are served today. The glasses were broken into two pieces, with one piece weighing up to a quarter of a pound, and that piece was used to hold the liquid of your choice and a cork to seal the cap.

The importance of wine glasses today has no connection to the original intent. Today, the largest strain on the industry is wine appreciation. In many cases, a better wine glass is what makes the difference between good and bad wine. When you place your glasses on a dinner table at a restaurant, the process is done for you.

Wine Glasses

A good rule of thumb is to place your glass between the bread, soup or salad plate and the condiment or dessert plate. This makes it easy to get to all of the foods, especially if you are in a larger group. You can place your glass on the opposite end of the table if there is space between them.

Alternatively, you can move the plate and the glass away from the bread/salad plate, to a different spot on the table. The goal of this placement is to give each person a clear path to all of their meal components. The water is there, but your guests won’t have to stretch to reach it.

Place wine glasses on the table as soon as you are seated

In many restaurants, this is the most common way to store your wine. Usually, glasses are placed in a row, with the taller ones at the head of the table. However, this is not strictly speaking true etiquette – the chef/owner is usually better placed to answer any questions regarding the wine (and perhaps even the meal), and customers generally are seated quite close together.

If you’re a regular, the staff will probably know to ask you for your preferred placement. If you’re ordering wine or spirits at a restaurant or bar, be sure to request water in a separate glass and have your choice of wine/spirits from the menu displayed. What if you’re a first-time guest at a restaurant?

Make sure wine and water glasses are in the same relative position

This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to go astray. The idea is that the water glass is placed over the wine glass to indicate that both are for guests to use. The implication being that the wine glass sits to the side. To prevent confusion about which is which, we like to position the wine glass as low down as possible.

This is not only because it’s easier to drink from when holding a glass (rather than with the stem), but also because if your guests are standing, and want to use their hands to drink from the wine, then they need to have a free hand to pick up a glass. Don’t take up too much room on the table A lot of people think that the height of the wine glass needs to be within arm’s reach.

When to drink water

The basic rule is that when you are eating, you should drink water, and not water with your meal. The reason for this is because as the food in your stomach starts to digest, your body may start to show signs of dehydration. It will be the job of the body to excrete the water you have drunk with your meal, which is why you should first stop eating before you start drinking water with your meal.

When you are at a restaurant, the serving staff are likely to ask if you would like water with your meal. If you are unsure of how to answer, be sure to ask if the water is actually still in the glass, or if they are just putting it in for you. When to drink wine The second rule is that you should have a drink before you eat. To be fair, this isn’t always the case, and some people don’t wait.

Related: The 11 Best Wine Glasses

Water Glasses

Water glasses should never be on the table, or on a seat-side table, or anywhere near your food or drink.

  • Beach glass – The ground is warm and it’s hard for water to stay cold. Use a beach glass to keep your water cool and full.
  • Sustainable glass – Also known as bamboo glass, these are great for any use and are more environmentally friendly than glassware made from traditional materials.
  • Beverage shaker – A shaker adds a smooth touch to any beverage.
  • Sealed glass – Most restaurants seal the cup/glass with a special seal so you don’t spill.
  • Coffee mug – Use a coffee mug to chill your wine.
  • Folded napkins – Many restaurants use these napkins to put your napkin down in, so get them for your use.

Place water glasses on the table as soon as you are seated

With most wine glasses in a restaurant sitting on the table for at least an hour or more, it’s important to ensure your table is empty before you begin to place your glasses, or else you may look guilty as soon as a waiter starts setting up the table. If you’ve forgotten to remove the empty glasses before sitting, do not hesitate to place a new one on the table, but be sure to move any matching glasses over as you place the new one.

Place the clear glass on your left, and the smaller clear glass on your right. If you have multiple glasses of different sizes, make sure you use the smaller one first and then the larger one. Continue this pattern with all the glasses you’re using. If you’re not using all the wine glasses at the same time, fill the center of the circle with water.

Make sure the water and wine glasses are in the same relative position

Firstly, you need to understand that the glassware should always be in the same relative position. Pairing your wine and water glasses The first step is to choose the correct glassware to use for each wine. After that, they will all match perfectly.

It is also a good idea to use the same type of glassware for all wines, regardless of their alcohol content. Wines of any vintage and price category should be paired with the appropriate glass. For example, we don’t serve a high-alcohol Chenin Blanc with a wine glass that has a low-gravity, wide-mouthed stem.


All of these rules can be simplified by saying that the proper placement is in line with your center of gravity – which is why wine glasses should be on the edge, away from your table, and the cups should be level, and the water should rest on a flat surface. Just place the glass and its stem in the right position, and the rest is easy.

The Different Types of Wine Glasses, And How to Choose the Right One For You


I'm Devin. I'm a wine enthusiast, researcher, and writer. I love to write about various topics during my free time, but when I'm not working you can find me traveling the world or reading, watching movies, or swimming.

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