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How to Set a Table for Thanksgiving Dinner

By: Adriana Funke, Editor,
How to Set a Table for Thanksgiving Dinner
How to Set a Table for Thanksgiving Dinner
This image courtesy of

As Turkey Day approaches, you've manged to stay on top of your to-do list by meticulously planning your Thanksgiving dinner menu. But there's one thing you forgot to plan: how to set the perfect table. Have no fear! We can help you figure out where all of those pesky forks go and how to best set up the centerpiece. The perfect table decorations act as a beautiful backdrop for your delicious meal. They should add to how amazing the stuffed turkey looks — not take away from it. Your guests will be "ooohing" and "ahhhing" over your well-crafted place settings between mouthfuls of sweet potato pie.

Keep these helpful Thanksgiving table setting ideas in mind when the holidays roll around. This is a great opportunity to get creative with the food and decorations you already have in your home. Dust off your family's heirloom china or go thrifting for quirky pieces that will bring vitality to your holiday dinner. Have some fun with your table decor this Thanksgiving! It will make everything look pulled together and professionally styled.

Basic Rules of Table Decorating

These guidelines apply to just about any table setting.

  1. Choose one main color and accent with one other (two at the most). Of course, Thanksgiving-themed tables most often incorporate reds and oranges, but let the dishes you already have inspire your color palatte. You can also opt for a modern decor by using all white dinnerware and linens.

  2. Less is more. We all have the tendency to overfill our tables; but, unless you have a very large table, try to keep the table decor looking effortless but controlled. Keep in mind that you will need to have room for all of the serving bowls and platters.

  3. Make sure the decorations are below eye level. You want your guests to interact with each other, not stare at awkwardly-placed centerpieces. Additionally, it's easier to pass dishes if there is nothing tall in the way. However, if you do want to add height to your table, make sure the decorations are thin and don't obstruct your guests' line of sight.

  4. If you choose to make a seating chart, name cards are another area where you can showcase your creativity. Tie the cards to small gourds or make them out of scrapbook material from your craft room. The possibilities are endless!

The Specifics

The following guidelines are for a more traditional way of laying out the place settings. But as they say, rules are meant to be broken. Feel free to put your own spin on what you see here!

  1. Linens: You may choose to use a table cloth, a table runner, or a combination of both. Cloth napkins also add a fun, sophisticated feeling to the table setting.

  2. Plates: Depending on what exactly you're serving, the order and types of plates may differ. However, this is a basic order in which to stack the plates (from bottom to top): charger, dinner plate, and salad plate or soup bowl.

  3. Flatware: Work from the outside in. Forks go on the left side of the plates with the salad fork the farthest left. The knife and spoon go on the right side of the plates with the spoon the farthest right. Depending on how many courses you serve and how closely you wish to follow dining table etiquette, there may be additional flatware on the table such as a dessert fork and spoon above the plate.

  4. Stemware: Once again, this arrangement depends on how formal your Thanksgiving dinner is. Place the water glass above the knife, a white wine glass to its right, and a red wine glass above those two. Of course, it is more common (and manageable) to see a water glass and only one other type of glass for a second beverage. You can break out coffee cups for dessert.

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