3 Ways to Set a Holiday Table

November  4, 2014

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: How to set your table for Thanksgiving, no matter how fancy the gathering.

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Thanksgiving is coming up, and you're likely already bookmarking pumpkin pie recipes. In all the flurry around the food, it's easy to forget about what you'll be serving it on. We suggest planning the table settings in advance, too, so you don't end up serving your relatives mashed potatoes on plastic plates. But a beautiful table doesn’t require extravagant, expensive china. You can (and should) work with what you have -- here are some useful guidelines on three different table setting themes:

1. Keep it neutral. Thanksgiving dinner is colorful: You’ve got your greens, your cranberry sauce, and your beautiful turkey. Brightly patterned china and napkins can grab attention and crowd the table, so use shades of tan and white instead to make the food stand out. If you’re worried the table settings will be too plain for a holiday meal, a little glitz goes a long way. For a more festive feeling, use gold-rimmed pinch bowls for salt and pepper or gold-trimmed ecru napkins. Or pop some Champagne -- your call.

2. Fancy it up. If you appreciate a nice white tablecloth and plan to dress up for Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll want a more formal table setting. Don’t worry! That doesn’t have to mean heirloom serveware and $400 forks. Our best rule of thumb for formal dining is to match everything. Use the same plates, the same cutlery, and the same napkin rings at every setting -- the end result will look expensive even if it isn't. Another easy trick: Lay a linen runner over a tablecloth. It takes seconds but looks carefully planned and elegant.

3. Make it relaxed: Thanksgiving is about friends and family. And it’s about pie. So if your vibe is more “let’s drink wine and wear slippers," you’ll want a table that invites sharing and doesn’t feel stuffy. First, serve food buffet-style for a more casual feeling. Second, don’t feel wedded to china -- we like to use these Verterra plates for parties. As a nice bonus, they’re compostable -- so less clean-up!

Our last-minute extra-afforable trick? Decorative gourds as a centerpiece. You can really only get away with using them once a year, so seize the moment and get seasonal.  

How do you set your Thanksgiving table? Tell us!

Top photos by James Ransom; third photo by Mark Weinberg

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • dymnyno
  • arcane54
  • Patricia Meyer
    Patricia Meyer
I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.


dymnyno November 5, 2014
One of my favorite tablecloths are....They are very long and fit banquet tables...
dymnyno November 5, 2014
One of my favorite tablecloths to use for large events is painter's drop cloths. They are a natural color canvas and look like linen. You can paint on them if you wish, but I use nice dishes and flat wear and beautiful napkins and no one guesses the humble and cheap beginnings of my tablecloth. (I regularly host wine tastings, lunches and dinners for 20 to 40 guests)
arcane54 November 4, 2014
We rent plates, utensils, etc. for a cohesive look for our 30+ Friends-giving feast. Our nod to fomality is red tablecloths, candles and cloth napkins. One recommendation is to heat all the plates in the dishwasher "dry setting" so all that luscious bounty can be eaten hot, like we're meant to do.
Patricia M. November 4, 2014
Please make a suggestion on a nice quality white tablecloth to order online! Many thanks, friends. . .