With so many forks, glasses, and plates, setting a table for a formal event can be a confusing task. We'll show you the right way to set a table for the holidays.

By Hannah Bruneman
Updated July 20, 2021
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To ease holiday stress, set your dining room table for the big Thanksgiving dinner several days prior to the big day. But how do you go about choosing the right plate, spoon, or wine glass? To make sure your table has all the serving elements you need, we've mapped out the must-know rules of table setting. We'll show you where to place the wine glass and why there should be more than one fork per person. Take a look at our expert tips below and you'll be the ultimate host this holiday season.

thanksgiving table candle centerpiece
Credit: Marty Baldwin

How to Set a Thanksgiving Table

Supplies Needed

You'll need one of every item below for each guest you plan to have at dinner.

  • Placemats or chargers
  • Plates
  • Napkins
  • Napkin rings
  • Silverware
  • Wine glasses
  • Water glasses
  • Bowls
  • Bread plates

Step-by-Step Directions

With a few supplies and these how-to instructions, you can set a beautiful Thanksgiving table. Customize your Thanksgiving table setting with your favorite dishes and decor.

plate yellow napkin pumpkins
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Step 1: Plates and Napkins

Before even setting down a plate on your Thanksgiving dinner table, consider chargers or place mats ($5, Target). They can work well in some holiday tablescapes, but if you have a big family or a full Thanksgiving table, it's totally okay to opt-out in order to save space. You might, however, want to use them if your family has a designated kids' table. Messy eaters can ruin a tablecloth with gravy grease stains or drips of cranberry sauce.

Once you've decided whether to incorporate place mats or chargers, carefully set down your plates. Start with the largest plate, which is used for the main course, followed by the salad plate set directly on top. If you're using fine china, be careful when setting the plates on top of each other.

Next, assemble your napkins. Use cloth napkins ($10 for six, World Market) for a formal holiday setting. You can choose to fold them in a classic rectangle and place them under silverware on the right side of your plate. Or, fold them in a fun shape and center them on your plate. Another option is to roll napkins into napkin rings (like these festive DIY acorn napkin rings) for a festive accent.

modern autumn tablesetting
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Step 2: Silverware

You can't eat Thanksgiving dinner without silverware! When setting your knives and forks, there are a few basics to keep in mind. First, forks always sit on the left side of the plate. For formal dinner settings, you'll need a full set of silverware ($63, Target) that includes two forks. The smaller fork goes on the outside for an appetizer or salad and a larger fork should be placed closest to the plate for the main course.

On the right side of your plate, place the knife nearest to the plate with the blade facing in. The spoon should be placed last next to the knife. If serving soup, you'll want to include both a soup spoon and dessert spoon to the right of the knife. Make sure all utensils are aligned with the bottom of the plate for uniformity.

thanksgiving table
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Step 3: Drinkware and Finishing Touches

Now it's time to set the drinkware. If you are serving wine at your dinner, be sure to set the appropriate wine glasses ($26 for a set of four, West Elm) at each place. You should also provide each guest with a glass for water. All drinkware should be placed on the right side of your table setting, above the knife and spoon, with the water glass at the top.

On the opposite side of the glasses, you have the option to include a bowl or bread plate and a butter knife. Whichever you choose, make sure it matches your plates in color and style.

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