Everything You Need To Know About Setting Your Thanksgiving Table


Everything You Need To Know About Setting Your Thanksgiving Table

Posted on: November 14, 2018

What You Should Know In Order to Set Your Dining Room Table for Thanksgiving

Organizing Thanksgiving at your home can be a lot of stress - between being responsible for cooking dinner, hosting family and friends, and the dreaded clean-up afterward.

To take the worry off your hands for the holiday, here are ideas for decorating your Thanksgiving Day dinner table, no matter the size, shape, or number of guests you are accommodating.

Table-Setting Types

The process of decorating a table depends on a few variables dealing with the table itself.

You wouldn't decorate a big rectangular table the same as you would a small circular table.

The elements of size, shape, and material all play into how you will ultimately decide how to set your fall holiday dinner table. 


With a small table for Thanksgiving Day dinner, it is a wise choice to limit the amount of table decor. 

An overuse of table decor clutters the surface and could interfere with the necessary items - such as plates, drinkware, wine bottles, and of course, food!

If space is a concern, consider opting for benches for your guests to sit on instead of individual chairs, as this saves room around the table.

For larger tables, you have more space to place decor, and the option of a larger centerpiece and smaller pieces on either side are able to be exercised.

Oval Thanksgiving centerpiece-centric table setting


Rectangle. When setting a long banquet style table, it's all about balance.

If you are decorating with a tablecloth or runner, you need to know the length of your table. 

The arrangement should be the length plus 12" of fabric that hangs beyond both ends of the table.

A rectangular shape allows you the option to spread out decorations across the length of the table, and not just focus on the exact middle.

This way, you can decorate with a row of short vases down the table that all your guests can enjoy looking at.

Circle. This type of table is best for an intimate feel to a gathering centering around food and great company.

The eyes of your guests will be drawn to the center of the table; since the middle is the focal point of everyone's gaze, have your centerpiece be low-profile but a conversation-starter.

You can use cloth runners to make an "X" across the table for something different. Circular tables are ideal for this pattern.

Oval. This shape has decorating elements that draw from both rectangular and circular tables.

It has the length element of a rectangular table, but the focal point seems to be the middle just like a circular one.

However, unlike a circle, the "X" pattern with runners doesn't work as well on an oval table, as it has an awkward length fighting against this decorating idea.

A tablecloth with a runner down the center of the table works just fine on this table shape, and the use of benches is something to consider here as well.

Formal Thanksgiving table setting with fall-printed tablecloth

Bare-top or Tablecloth

If you own a table that looks beautiful undressed, try building a theme to enhance the natural vibe of your bare tabletop.

Placements are a great way to show off your naked tabletop while still protecting it from heat and spills.

When opting to use a tablecloth, skip the one you use every day.

Replace it with one that is a fall print or a rich, autumn-inspired hue, like burnt orange, olive green, or chestnut brown.

This color selection for the cloth will help set the base for your Thanksgiving table's fall theme.

Tips for Setting Tables

With any type of table setting you are going for - formal, informal, adults, or kids - there are a few universal tips to know. 

Holidays are a time to celebrate with family and friends, and the use of place cards makes guests feel welcome into your home, and give a personalized feel.

Using name cards will help to avoid awkward family moments when guests seat themselves, which could create potential problems.

You want to avoid centerpieces that could take away from the meal, like scented candles or a larger-sized centerpiece that will interfere with food placement and dinner conversations.

No one likes to talk through a tall object in the middle.

Instead, think about small, fall-themed items like pumpkins or acorns. These add a festive theme to your Thanksgiving table.

Keep the overall theme for the setting simple: a table can look too busy if there is a lot going on with colors, clashing patterns, or embellishments.

Don't let this discourage you from mixing opposing items; combine high + low, vintage with new, and solid colors + patterns. Have fun with it! 

The secret to a fabulous holiday table is to use layers. A table with or without a tablecloth should have a great runner, candlesticks, and a centerpiece. Each place setting will look even more special if you use a plate charger, special holiday napkins, and lovely napkin rings. Of course, multiple serving utensils and glasses for different beverages adds to the glamour. The more layers, the bigger the 'WOW' factor!" - Carol C. Youd, lead designer at Furniture of Dalton

You can also mix-and-match the four types of table settings: formal, informal, adults, and kids.

Formal kids' tables are something rare, but a treat to create, and informal adults' tables are an easy choice when you have a long guest list. 

Just don't stray too far from a simple, clean theme.


The use of a chargera large, decorative base setting that other dinnerware is placed on top of - adds an ambiance of elegance and class to a table setting. 

Cloth napkins also give off a feel of an upscale experience.

Opt to use a cloth tablecloth instead of a synthetic one. 

Formal settings invite a fancier display of the flatware as well.

For reference, forks go on the left, as spoons and knives are on the right.

Place them in the order that they will be used, with the first utensil being farthest away from the plate.

However, even a formal table does not require using your finest china.

Instead, large, plain white dinner plates are a good choice.

And, they are able to be used for casual dining as well.


For an informal dinner (and easy clean-up!), you can use plastic flatware - just make sure it's functional and not flimsy.

When hosting a casual Thanksgiving dinner, set the table without a cloth, especially if the table has an attractive wood top.

Placemats protect your tabletop, while still providing a backdrop for your decoration's theme.

You can use everyday plates and drinkware.

There is no need to fuss over little plates designated for bread and butter - guests can put bread directly on their dinner plates.

To enhance the fall holiday mood, consider a few special pieces, such as a modern vase or a themed platter.

Bare tabletop casual Thanksgiving table

Adults-only settings

For adult-only tables, place drinkware in the order they will be used.

If you are unsure of what order they need to go in, remember the phrase: "water, white, red." 

You can add all the specific types of forks and spoons that would be used (salad, dinner, and dessert forks; spoon, tea, and dessert spoons).

You can choose to go formal or informal with the adults-only table, depending on budget, time, and the length of your guest list.

Kids' Tables

Brightly colored paper or plastic plates and a 3D-paper turkey centerpiece are dead giveaways of a table intended for children.

Plus, non-glass serving ware is ideal for children to use because no one will need to worry about potential broken China.

"Is dinner ready yet?"

"When are we eating?"

"I'm bored."

"There's nothing to do."

Ah, the usual complaints from the mouths of children when the holiday meal is cooking.

If this is something you're going to deal with on Thanksgiving, we have a solution for you. 

Use a scroll of Kraft paper instead of a tablecloth so kids can draw on it.

This will keep all the children occupied until dinner is ready to be served.

The kids will be entertained, and you don't have a tablecloth ruined from crayons and markers.

After all, isn't being entertained one of the goals of a holiday dinner?

We hope that this article helps your dinner go off without a hitch, and we wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving!


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