Too Many Cooks: Our Tips for Table Styling

December  2, 2013

You'll be hearing from the staff at Food52 in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more.  

Today, in conjunction with our friends at Terrain, we're discussing our favorite ways to set our holiday tables -- and giving away five $1,000 gift cards!

Tips for Table Setting on Food52
Each year, setting the holiday table is something to look forward to. Guests can chip in and bring dishes to contribute to a meal, but the table is your domain -- you own the tablescape. Whether you DIY, dig out family heirlooms, create handcrafted placecards or eclectic centerpieces -- there are endless ways to put your spin on holiday tables.

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To glean the crafiest wisdom from our team, this week we asked: 

What are your tips for table styling?

How do you like to set your table for the holidays? Tell us in the comments!

Brette: I set the table well in advance, and if there's time, I make it a little project for myself: Building it as the days go by, moving things around, buying cool fruits and vegetables I see at the market and adding them. And on that note, I prefer pretty produce to flowers any day; they style themselves (and are usually less expensive!).

Catherine: My family has so many people (usually over 30) that we have to plan out seating arrangements like a wedding. We let my little cousins make the namecards and decorate them, and then set them up at the tables. But usually everyone ends up moving them around anyway.

Tips for Table Styling on Food52

Posie: In addition to hand-making new name cards every year, we've started hand-lettering menus to put on each plate (we like to note all the food that comes from our own garden, or from other people we know). It's a pretty piece for each table setting and it's also fun to describe all the traditional dishes you make.

Kenzi: I delegate.

Hannah: I'm with Kenzi.

More: Build your tablescape, in style.

Gabriella: My mom's in charge, as she is for the rest of the holiday meals. Plus, nobody in my family really trusts me around the fine china (with good reason). Though after she read this post, my mom wants to mix it up this year -- so I guess I'll be scavenging for branches to paint. 

Tips for Table Styling on Food52

Lauren L: I like to mix and match nice pieces I've purchased or received over the years with natural elements. For a recent dinner party (on Canadian Thanksgiving!), I laid out lemons, limes, and quince on a wine barrel tray.  It was simple but I'd like to think somewhat stylish.  

Rachel: I have never done this before but I love the idea of "I am thankful for..." cards at each place setting -- maybe we will try it this year!

More: Update your placecards.

Merrill: In my family there is always a little wrapped present at each person's place at a holiday meal. It's never anything big -- could be some nice chocolate or a little bar of soap, or a funky keychain. 

Tell us: What personal touches do you add to your table?

This article was brought to you by our friends at Terrain. Today, to celebrate the season, five lucky Terrain shoppers will walk away with a $1,000 Terrain gift card. Want to be one of them? Make a purchase at (today only!) and you’ll be automatically entered to win, or enter here.

Photos by James Ransom and Anna Hezel

Food52's Automagic Holiday Menu Maker
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Food52's Automagic Holiday Menu Maker

Choose your holiday adventure! Our Automagic Menu Maker is here to help.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • aargersi
  • Jenn
  • rebecca roberts
    rebecca roberts
Lactose intolerant cheese lover, who will walk blocks for a good cup of coffee. Recently escaped the corporate world, after discovering her favorite part of the job was ordering catering.


aargersi December 3, 2013
Oh wow, hand printed menus? Wrapped gifts? Origami? We settle for everyone having their own plate and silverware, and usually some flowers. If I am feeling fancy I might add some herbs or plants from the yard. I seriously need to step up my game. (ps - we tried that "what are you thankful for" thing and when there are 25-30 people involved it ultimately ends up being thankful if your meal is still hot by the time it's over :-)
Jenn December 2, 2013
Setting the table is my favorite part of entertaining, it distinguishes an every day meal from a "special" meal, but I still like to keep things simple. For Thanksgiving, I used red winterberries down the middle of the table on a runner. I also like to add cups with herbs or berries underneath tea lights. In keeping with the theme of Thanksgiving and celebrating harvest, I like to add a couple of different containers with lids with nuts and dried berries so that guests can uncover them like presents.
rebecca R. December 2, 2013
I like to emulate pictures of gorgeous table settings in catalogues & magazines, using things I have on hand or find in thrift stores. Plus a little (anal) origami napkin folding.