How to Set Your Thanksgiving Table

Nov 11, 2022

How to set your Thanksgiving table

As we count down the days until Thanksgiving, there’s one item on the checklist that often gets overlooked: the table setting.

While this is definitely not the most important piece of the Thanksgiving puzzle (hello turkey, we’re looking at you), a little bit can go a long way toward making the day a little extra festive.

And whether you’re hosting an informal affair or opting for a more elevated soirée, there are a ton of ways to set your table to suit your taste, event and style! From incorporating everyday whiteware to finally understanding what that tiny, little fork is for, we’ve gathered our best kept tips and tricks to help you set your Thanksgiving table.

How to set your Thanksgiving table

Utilize items you already have

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to have a perfectly matched, mood-board-inspired, aesthetically pleasing Thanksgiving table, despite what the influencers may lead you to believe.

Instead, embrace the mismatched style and find ways to incorporate a few festive pieces into items you already own.

White plates are great for every occasion and look stunning when placed on top of a harvest-themed placemat or charger. You can also reserve the decorative pieces for special dishes, like the turkey, and opt for a themed serving platter or bowl.

Not only will this help your budget, but it will make these bigger pieces stand out.

How to set your Thanksgiving table

No tablecloth, no problem!

Sure, tablecloths add a touch of elegance that we usually only experience in a fine-dining restaurant. But you don’t need to run out and buy one in order to add some festive color to your Thanksgiving table.

Instead, opt for a festive table runner and pair it with complementary napkins and placemats!

Choose a base color for both and find patterns and materials that pair well together and can be used for more than one season. Earth tones like brown, cream, green, orange and white can work for a variety of seasons and celebrations and can keep things festive without stretching your budget.

How to set your Thanksgiving table

Incorporate natural elements

One of the best ways to make your Thanksgiving table feel a little more festive is by inviting a bit of nature inside.

Take a walk through the neighborhood and look for small but intact evergreen twigs and branches that can be used in place of a centerpiece. Mix in some mini pumpkins or acorn squash as festive elements and flank them with white tealights or pillar candles (the flameless kind, of course). If you’ve got a string of battery-operated lights on hand, weave it through the greenery to create a rustic, woodsy feel.

When it comes to floral arrangements, less truly is more.

Simply put, the smaller the arrangement, the more you can place on the table or around your kitchen or buffet (if applicable). If you’re making them on your own, look for flowers in hues of yellow, orange or red and pair them with greenery like eucalyptus. These will last long after Turkey Day and can also be a great party favor for guests!

Editor’s Tip: Herbs aren’t just for the turkey!

Use sprigs of rosemary, thyme and sage as elements in your table décor. Wrap them in a bit of twine or ribbon and place them on the napkin or in the center of each plate. Not only are fresh herbs relatively inexpensive—you can even grow your own—but they’ll complement the aromas of the dishes nicely and add a simple but elegant touch to your meal.

How to set an informal Thanksgiving table

How to set an informal Thanksgiving table

The informal table setting is probably the one you’re most familiar with and is also the easiest to set up.

What flatware and glasses you use will largely depend on what you’re serving and how many courses, but this will present enough options for guests and will make your table feel “set up” without looking overly stuffy or complicated.

If you’re wanting to make this even more casual, skip the charger or placemat altogether and just set a dinner plate at each seat. The fork can go on top of or between the plate and napkin depending on your preference, and a butter knife or spreader is entirely optional (although highly recommended for cleanliness).

How to set a semi-formal Thanksgiving table

How to set a semi-formal Thanksgiving table

While a little more involved than the informal table setting above, this option will help elevate your Thanksgiving table if you’re looking for something a little more elegant.

You can still incorporate a lot of the tips above and again, the flatware you use will depend largely on what you serve and how many courses. However, the addition of a charger or placemat takes this from casual to slightly more formal, and items like a salad fork and plate can be removed after use, helping to keep the table clean.

And while the dessert fork and spoon are optional, it is recommended that you include one if dessert is an option, as this will make service much smoother and quicker—no need to dig through the silverware drawer for clean forks!

How to set a formal Thanksgiving table

How to set a formal Thanksgiving table

The pièce de résistance: the formal table setting.

If you know you’ll be serving a multi-course meal, this is a great option to elevate the meal and ensure your guests have everything they need for each dish.

The biggest difference here is the addition of the soup spoon and bowl—by placing the soup bowl on top of the salad plate, you’re letting your guests know what to expect and when. And in terms of flatware, the old adage rings true—work from the outside in.

As you and your guests finish each course, those utensils and bowls or plates can be removed, making more space for other dishes, like your main course or sides. By the end of the meal, if dessert and/or coffee are being served, each setting will be left with a charger or placemat, a napkin, a dessert fork or spoon and their drinking glasses.

This keeps the table free of clutter, which also allows for more time spent enjoying your guests’ company, as a busy table can make people feel rushed and ready to move on to the cleanup.

So, now that you’re armed with these tips and tricks, it’s time to get the table ready! Remember, it’s not about having the “perfect” table but about creating the perfect atmosphere for your loved ones. A simple table setting is all you need to enjoy delicious food and the company of family and friends.

Happy hosting!


Ready to take your holiday table to the next level? Check out our Thanksgiving shop for inspiration and items to make your Thanksgiving dinner one to remember.

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“Proper Table Setting 101” – The Emily Post Institute || “How to Set a Table: A Guide to Holiday Parties and Casual Dining” – Architectural Digest

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