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How to Set a Table for Thanksgiving

How to Set a Table for Thanksgiving - Proline Range Hoods

It’s easy to get overwhelmed as Thanksgiving approaches. Think about everything you need to do. Shop for Thanksgiving dinner, prepare food for a large crowd, clean up your home, decorate...the list goes on.

Even the simple tasks, like how to set a table for Thanksgiving can be a chore. After all, it is Thanksgiving and you want to make sure that you present well to your guests, friends, and family.

In this article, we’ll walk you through how to set a table for Thanksgiving in five easy steps.

If you love decorating and preparing for the holidays, read to the end. We’ll include four more fun bonus tips to help you prepare for Thanksgiving dinner.

1. Start with a tablecloth or table runner.

To set a Thanksgiving table, the first thing you need to do is buy a tablecloth. It will keep food off your thanksgiving table but it also gives it some elegance.

How to Set a Table for Thanksgiving - Start with a tablecloth

Most tablecloths are monochromatic. Since it takes up the whole table, you don’t want a color that stands out too much. But you can also look for tablecloths with patterns.

Thanksgiving table with white tablecloth

If you have an older table, a table cloth might be better than a table runner. It will keep any scratches hidden from view. Especially if you are setting a large table, the tablecloth will set the precedent for your style. You want the table cloth to evoke a sleek and clean feel in your dining room. Not too jarring, but not too subtle. Not too over-the-top, but not too tacky.

If you aren’t looking to cover the whole thanksgiving table, then it’s worth looking at table runners. A table runner is a thin piece of fabric that extends across the center of your thanksgiving table.

It’s mostly a decorative piece. Generally, the only thing that sits on a table runner is a centerpiece, which we’ll talk more about later. But you can also set plants or candles on it.

Small table with table runner

With a large thanksgiving table, you might see two thin table runners. This leaves space in the middle for food, drinks, a centerpiece, and whatever else you might have on the table.

Long table with two long table runners and a centerpiece

Table runners are the best option if you want to show off your table. If you just got it refurbished, why cover it up?

2. Break out the fancy dishware.

For the Thanksgiving holiday, you’ll need plates, utensils, and glassware. My favorite dishware for thanksgiving is fine china. I usually reserve it for holiday occasions like Christmas and Easter as well. You’ll certainly surprise your guests and even close family members when you pull out your fancy dishware.

There’s no need to buy a set specifically for Thanksgiving, but if you want to go the extra mile, that is definitely an option.

Fine China

You might be wondering what dishware you need. That depends on what you’re serving – and honestly how many dishes you want to do after dinner is over. When I host thanksgiving dinner, everything fits fine on a plate. There’s no need for a bowl for stuffing or mashed potatoes or a small plate for side dishes.

But, if you are having a potluck or social where people will bring food, take out the small plates for appetizers! Or, set them aside for dessert – we’ll touch on this more in Step 4.

As far as utensils go, stainless steel is the no-brainer best option here. Set the forks on the left and knife and spoon on the right.

For drinks, glass cups are the most popular. Set them out on the table in front of the plates, upside down.

There’s a lot to serve on Thanksgiving, so space out your thanksgiving table settings to make room for the food in the center.

3. Decide on a centerpiece you love.

Now that you’ve got the table cloth and dishware setup, it’s time to pick a centerpiece. You might go with a plant or a plant, and some candles. I often use the largest dish that I have for Thanksgiving: the turkey. Just buy a large plate or platter for the full turkey or half turkey and set it in the center.

You can’t get more festive than using an actual turkey as your centerpiece.

Set table with flower vase
Clean Kitchen with Wooden Table

4. Fill pitchers and carafes with your drink of choice.

You’re almost there! Every thanksgiving table setting is complete. You’ve bought or made a beautiful fall-themed centerpiece to make your dining room festive.

To complete the table setting, all you need is drinks.

You don’t want to be getting up to refill people’s drinks often, so it’s best if you fill up a couple of pitchers or carafes with your guests’ drink of choice. Carafes are a luxurious addition to the thanksgiving table. They’re rarely used daily for dinner, so they can be a nice modern touch for holiday occasions.

5. Prepare dessert dishes and utensils for after Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving isn’t just a one-course meal. You might choose to enjoy pumpkin pie, apple pie, or another festive dessert that your family loves to make every year. For the main course, you’ll have enough on the dining room table. So it’s best to keep the dessert dishes tucked away until everyone’s enjoyed their turkey.

Before you sit down to eat, set aside the plates, utensils, and napkins you’ll need for dessert and bring them out after everyone’s done eating. If you don’t have enough dishes, you can clear the plates and wash them before serving dessert.

Once you’ve prepared each table setting and dessert dishes, you’re done. Setting the table for thanksgiving doesn’t have to be difficult. One of the nicest things about setting your thanksgiving table is that it doesn’t have to be done on Thanksgiving day. All the dishware, utensils, the center piece, and the table cloth can be laid out beforehand. This way, all you’ll have to worry about on Thanksgiving is cooking.

The five steps to set your thanksgiving dining table were just the basics. If you’re more passionate about holiday get-togethers, you might enjoy these four bonus tips!

Bonus Tips for the Devoted Thanksgiving Decorators

Linen Napkins and Napkin Rings

Are you looking to go above and beyond for Thanksgiving? Instead of traditional napkins, go with linen napkins and napkin rings. These napkins are what you see when you go to any fancy restaurant. Even many of the fancy restaurants don’t have napkin rings! So if you want to do something special that doesn’t take a lot of work, this is a great place to start. It completes the place setting nicely.

Color Scheme

Next on your agenda is the color scheme. You might not want a traditional white table cloth, but a thanksgiving themed one. Maybe a dark orange, a forest green, or a tree-trunk brown. How festive do you want your centerpiece? It can scream fall with some attention to detail and focus on thanksgiving themes. Think autumn leaves, cornucopia, turkeys, and plaid patterns for starters.

Table Top Decor Ideas

This is where you can let your creative juices flow. Try out a floral thanksgiving center piece. Or a few small pumpkins from your nearest pumpkin patch. Some orange and red leaves, perhaps. Do you have any fun thanksgiving knick-knacks stored away? If so, now’s the time to use them.

Place Cards

Our final tip to please your sweet tooth for thanksgiving decor is place cards. Place cards are a beautiful addition to your dining table and they don’t take up much space either. Just set a place card on top of each table setting for your guests to enjoy before they sit down to eat.

A place card is often used for weddings, but it is also popular for special occasions. This includes Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s.

How to Set a Thanksgiving Table for Kids

The fancy dishware and luxurious table settings are not as important to kids as they may be to adults. You don’t want them breaking any dishware, either. Depending on the kids’ ages, set them up with small plates and napkins.

Then, warm up some food in separate bowls for them, but make sure it’s not too hot.

While you’re preparing for Thanksgiving, you may be struggling to keep your kids busy. So, find a creative way to engage them – with a fun Thanksgiving activity! This could be anything from a fall-themed coloring book to thanksgiving arts and crafts! One easy way to decorate the table setting is with a thanksgiving placemat for kids.

Brainstorm ideas a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. This way, if the kids want to make anything in advance and show it off to your guests, they’ll have it ready by Thanksgiving. This can be a great way to motivate them and keep them occupied while you get ready for the holidays.

Especially if you have several kids over, you don’t want them to be too noisy. So, set up a thanksgiving table and an activity table in a separate room where they can enjoy the night together.


That wraps up our article on how to set a Thanksgiving table. Even if you are less enthusiastic about holidays, you can follow the five basic steps in this article. You don’t need to take any extra steps, but if you want to, you can.

When you think about prioritizing Thanksgiving, you might first think about cooking the turkey. While this is important, you should also focus effort on the more subtle aspects of thanksgiving, like table settings

Thanksgiving is not only about comfort food, but also enjoying time with friends and family. You’d be surprised how much the presentation alone can make your holiday party stand out from the rest.

Thanks for stopping by! Good luck preparing your table for thanksgiving day!

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