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Entertaining 101 | Table Settings

Entertaining 101 | Table Settings
Wife, journalist, ex-Girl Scout, self-proclaimed band geek, Megan adores anything yellow, Thai cuisine and is always on the search for the perfect leopard-print ballet flat. @MrsWndr

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it is centered around a meal. Families coming together, seated around a dinner table. Conversations full of good news, nosy relatives, and comments about the delicious food.

If it is your turn to host the festivities, setting the table should be the least of your worries. Here are some tips for setting the scene for this year’s Thanksgiving.

Basic Table Setting

While there are set guidelines for table settings depending on the formality of the meal, it doesn’t mean you need to adhere to them astutely.

Lay out the appropriate number of dishes, silverware, and glasses for the meal you plan on presenting. If you are planning a multiple-course meal, several utensils and plates may be needed. For a simpler plan, just the basics set a well-made table.

If you  are not serving food that requires a certain plate or utensil, then don’t lay it out with the rest of the service. No need to wash unused silverware!


Does multiple forks send visions of the dinner scene in ‘Pretty Woman’ to your head?

Edward: The salad comes at the end of the meal. Vivian:But that’s the fork I knew.

While Thanksgiving rarely asks for knowledge between shrimp and salad forks, even a basic table setting can look formal in presentation if done neatly.

Common advice is to work from the outside in, and that is true even for more complicated settings.  Knives are set blade facing inward to the right of the plates. Spoons are set to the right of the knife. If you are using them for the main course or for a soup course, set a spoon for each course needed.

Forks are set to the left of the plate, with the salad fork on the outside of the plate if multiple courses are being served.

A dessert fork can be set to the near left of the dinner plate, but with some people that could be confusing, so I like it above the dinner plate for the ever-present pumpkin pie along with a spoon for coffee (unless you are serving a dessert that needs a spoon).


A beverage glass should be above and to the right of the dinner plate, with a wine or champagne glass, if you are serving them or sparkling cider, on the right of that. If you plan on offering coffee with dessert, you can place it to the right of the glasses or leave it to be brought out as needed.


Dinner plate should be set square in front of the chair. If soup or salad courses are being served the plate or bowl should be placed on top of the dinner plate.

The bread plate is above and to the left of the dinner plate.  I never seem to have room on my plate for bread after I stuff it full of Thanksgiving goodness, so I love the option of setting a roll to the side.

Multiple Course Table Setting

Setting the scene

Thanksgiving is a festive occasion, so have fun with decorations in bright fall colors or whatever inspires you.

A napkin with a ribbon or napkin ring can go on the center of the plates, or a small pumpkin or autumn leaf.

Centerpieces should be low enough to talk over or simple, such as a few candles burning out of reach of children or a bowl of gourds.  A large centerpiece can set the stage before the meal begins and then removed to make room for the turkey.

If you can, lay out the table settings as early as you can, even the night before. Polish the silver if you are using it, or make sure the dishes, silverware and glasses are clean and spotless. Iron any table linens, such as placemats, napkins and tablecloths, and consider using a table pad underneath the tablecloth to help protect the table from spills, damage from hot dishes and to keep the tablecloth in place.

– Megan

 Do you set the holiday table? Who is hosting Thanksgiving this year in your family?



Megan (8 Posts)

Wife, journalist, ex-Girl Scout, self-proclaimed band geek, former student and substitute teacher, Megan tackles being a SAHM and decorating her new home in Sunshine Wonderland. @MrsWndr


  1. This is a great to remind us of the little things we can forget about properly setting a table for holiday meals. I especially liked your tips for centerpieces. We will be visiting my parents for Thanksgiving this year and I’m almost always in charge of the table so this comes in very handy! Looking forward to a family Thanksgiving at home in the US this year.

  2. I can’t remember the last time I set a table and didn’t think about that Pretty Woman scene!!!

  3. A proper table setting is the last thing on my mind at Thanksgiving. I’m usually worried about getting the mea. over and done with before the annual family fight breaks out. Yay, holidays rock.

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