Thanksgiving Table Setting Ideas,
From Casual to Formal

A beautifully set Thanksgiving table sets the stage long before the turkey appears. Set yours early so you’re not in a rush when guests arrive—then bask in the compliments.

The basics for setting an inviting table are simple: each guest needs a plate, fork, knife and spoon, water glass, wine glass and napkin. From there, the tone of your Thanksgiving table depends entirely on the type of gathering.

For A Formal Table Setting

Thanksgiving is the time to use your finest. Pull out the bone china dinnerware, use your fine flatware for a full five-piece place setting, and remember your crystal wine goblets and stemmed water glasses. White linens are a classic choice for formal meals (the light color puts the focus on the food), but any neutral-hued solid cloths will set the mood perfectly. Beautifully folded cloth napkins—either to the left beneath the fork or positioned atop the dinner plate within an elegant ring—are a must.

You can also get a formal look with all-white porcelain dishes and serveware. The appearance of a matched set will make your tablescape more refined. For a touch of glamour, add gold-rimmed dessert or salad plates.

For A Casual Thanksgiving Table Setting

Have fun with your Thanksgiving table decor: choose bold fall colors for your table linens, mix and match your dinnerware, use whimsical napkin rings, have stemless wine glasses stand in for water glasses, etc. Stick to one or two colors or patterns for an overall cohesive look.

Rather than serving each guest or making room for all the courses on your table, consider creating a buffet. Set the dishes on the sideboard and simply let your guests serve themselves. If you choose a buffet-style dinner, remember to place forks, knives and spoons at the end of the buffet table. This way, your guests can fill their plates without juggling utensils.

More Festive Ways To Make Your
Thanksgiving Tablescape Unforgettable

Craft a seasonal centerpiece

Let autumn’s bounty guide your Thanksgiving table decor. Find supplies in your backyard or at the local farmer’s market—branches, leaves, flowers and gourds in yellow, red and orange are perfect. Gather natural elements of your choice in a classic cornucopia or in rustic, textured vases. Mix in candles to cast a glow over your spread—just make sure they’re unscented so your turkey’s aroma prevails. Whatever decor you choose, add elements in different sizes and heights for visual interest and dimension.

Get creative with your seating chart

Mini pumpkins with tags tied to the stem make great place card holders, even on a formally attired table. Tie place cards to the stems and use a calligraphy pen to write guest names. For a very formal touch, consider using titles and last names, such as Dr. Jones or Ms. Smith. Use these place cards throughout the meal—ask guests to write down what they’re thankful for on the back. With ribbon and a hole punch, hang the cards from an arrangement of birch branches for everyone to read.

Set a kids’ table

Even if your main table is formal, this isn’t the place for your fine dishes. Melamine dinnerware and paper napkins are just fine for the younger set. Don’t forget to include your littlest guests with their own place cards, and add a small centerpiece for a seamless look. Stack individual boxes of crayons on their table, and provide layers of paper placemats or coloring books to give them fun activities and keep kids entertained throughout the meal.

Check out our Thanksgiving entertaining ideas for even more holiday inspiration.

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