How to Set a Table for Thanksgiving

Your turn to host? Learn how to set a table for Thanksgiving so your holiday is stunning and stress-free.

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Setting Your Table for a Successful Thanksgiving

We know that you want the holidays to feel extra special, and that means paying attention to the tiniest of details—including how to set a table for Thanksgiving.

The good news is there are so many ways to create a stunning Thanksgiving table. With a few decorating basics, homemade food and wonderful company, it’s sure to be a Thanksgiving holiday you’ll be grateful for.

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Name Card atop a place setting at a thanksgiving table
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Step 1: Make a Guest List

Before you can even think about how to set a table for Thanksgiving dinner, you need a guest list. The size of your party and the guests invited will dictate just about everything for your celebration.

Once you’ve got a list of affirmative RSVPs, you can start on that holiday cleaning list and get into planning mode.

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Country Thanksgiving Main Beauty
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Step 2: Determine Your Thanksgiving Style

When it comes to the holidays, everyone does things a little bit differently. While traditional Thanksgiving menus and decor may be the most popular for this holiday, remember that you’re in control as the host! (Check out our ideas for first-time Thanksgiving hosts.)

So think about your Thanksgiving style. Do you want to go all out with autumnal trimmings and fine china? Do you want to keep things homey and casual? Or would you prefer something a bit more lighthearted for a Friendsgiving celebration?

There are no wrong answers here. Keep your preferred style in mind as you build your menu and get your home ready for the holiday.

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Step 3: Get Your Table and Seating in Order

Before the holiday, make sure that you’ve got enough seating for your Thanksgiving feast. If you have a large dining room, you’re likely all set! Just break out the extra leaves for your table and you’re ready.

If you need extra seating, there’s absolutely no shame in setting up extra tables and folding chairs. Hosting plenty of guests is a great problem to have around the holidays.

To make sure your holiday is hiccup-free, set out the tables and chairs a day or two in advance. This will give you a good idea of how much space you’re working with and if you need to make any changes—or phone a friend if you need to borrow a table or any other must-have Thanksgiving items.

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Step 4: Lay the Foundation of Your Thanksgiving Table

Don’t break out the stemware just yet. Be sure to layer your Thanksgiving tabletop with linens that suit your style and needs. A simple, neutral-colored tablecloth is a great start. From there you can layer on a table runner, placemats, centerpieces and more. (Discover more of our Thanksgiving table ideas.)

During the holidays, a table covering of some kind is always a good idea. It will protect the surface of your dining room table (or can disguise a folding table that you just dusted off from the basement). For extra protection from spills, try a stain-resistant tablecloth.

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Bohemian Moroccan Plates
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Step 5: Set the Table

When you want to learn how to set a table for Thanksgiving, you really want to know how to assemble a proper place setting so the meal feels special.

To set a table, start with the dinner plate at the center. If you want to add a salad plate or small dish for sides, put it right on top. Along the left side, add the dinner fork and salad fork. On the right, place a knife and a spoon, if needed. Align the bottom of the silverware with the bottom of the plate. Stemware should be arranged at the top right of the place setting.

Top it all off with a napkin nestled inside a pretty napkin ring or try a fancy napkin fold. You can also add place cards or party favors to the setting.

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collection of different sizes and shapes of wine glasses
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Step 6: Choose the Right Drinkware

When working through how to set a table for a Thanksgiving meal, consider what beverages you’ll be serving alongside the turkey. The shape of the glasses can really make a difference when it comes to beverages—particularly wine.

If sparkling wine is your holiday go-to, be sure to bring out your champagne flutes or other glasses for drinking champagne. For wine, stemless options work great during the holidays since they’re a bit more stable and less prone to tipping on crowded tables. And don’t forget water glasses!

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Friendsgiving Main Beauty
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Step 7: Set Out Serveware

This is probably the most valuable secret to a successful Thanksgiving when it comes to how to set a table for the holiday: Don’t wait until it’s time to eat to make room for serveware.

Before dinner is served, check that there’s enough room for trays, bowls and gravy boats by placing the empty dishes on your table. When there’s a place for everything, you can serve turkey and Thanksgiving sides with confidence.

And one more tip: Don’t carve the turkey at the table! It takes up so much room and creates a huge mess. Carve it in the kitchen and present slices on a gorgeous serving tray.

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Step 8: Add the Finishing Touches

With all the essentials in place, you can pull out all the stops to make a beautiful Thanksgiving table. Add candles for a warm glow (try battery-powered tealights for safety—no one wants to catch a sleeve on fire over stuffing), festive salt and pepper shakers and plenty of rustic elements like branches, greens and pumpkins.

How you style your table centerpieces depends on what look you’re going for—consider these favorite fall colors for inspiration.

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Step 9: Get Ready for Thanksgiving Round Two—Dessert!

We all know that Thanksgiving isn’t over once you clear the last plate of turkey; there’s still dessert to enjoy! Be sure to have a plan for serving up slices of apple pie, pecan pie and, of course, pumpkin pie.

Be prepared for the dessert course with enough napkins, plates, forks and coffee cups to go around. If you want dessert to be really fuss-free, use some festive paper plates.

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The fun table filled with crafts
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What About the Kids’ Table?

Setting a table for the kids, too? You can follow the same basic steps as you would for the adults’ table, but inject way more fun.

Instead of opting for fancy linens and etched stemware, get crafty (you can even have the kids help out with these easy fall crafts for kids!) A paper runner serves as a combination coloring sheet and easy-to-clean-up table cover. Be sure to stock the table with crayons, washable markers and other fun goodies to keep little ones occupied at the Thanksgiving kids’ table.

As for the dinnerware here, no need to fuss. Use melamine dishes and plastic cups—they won’t break, even if that cup of sparkling grape juice drops on the floor.

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is a former Taste of Home editor and passionate baker. During her tenure, she poured her love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa also dedicated her career here to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.