Eat - November 15, 2019

How to Set Your Holiday Dinner Table: A Guide to Getting It Right

It’s almost Thanksgiving and you’re hosting this year’s festivities. You’re hyped, planning your menu, creating a show-stopping centerpiece, and deciding which vegan, gluten-free desserts to serve. Then it hits you: how do you set the dinner table? Do I actually know how to set the table for a dinner party? you wonder. You want something modern but not basic. Proper but not stiff.

After three long years of building, we were finally moving into our new home and I couldn’t wait for our very first dinner party. Thanks to our wedding registry we had everything we needed. Plenty of beautiful wine glasses, three sets of chic dishware, and we scored a few months earlier when we found a 200-piece antique gold flatware set at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. While unpacking and dreaming of hosting twenty-person dinners, it dawned on me. I had zero idea how to properly set a dinner table. Sure, I did it a million times as a kid, but in terms of table setting etiquette, I was clueless! I Amazon Primed myself a book ASAP.

Now that I’m a mama, I know that nobody has time to read an entire book about setting a table. So I teamed up with Erin from White Fig Designs to help walk us through how to set a holiday dinner table. Erin has been a part of so many of my family’s most special celebrations; while she’s known for her stunning floral arrangements, she’s also one of my go-tos when it comes to setting up the vibe. If you’re in the L.A. area, you should sign up for her workshops, but if you’re not in L.A., you can still get Erin’s tips, tricks, and inspo by following White Fig Designs on Instagram. 

Ok, now to setting your table…

First Thing’s First: Gather Your Supplies:

There are a few different ways you can tackle setting a table. Given that it’s the holidays, you may think that you have to go formal but ain’t nobody got time for that! Honestly, it’s more modern to follow a casual place setting and use great, impressive pieces.

Here’s what you need for a casual Thanksgiving place setting:

A simple linen tablecloth. A good linen tablecloth is an investment piece that never goes out of style and you can dress it up or down. I love this one from Williams-Sonoma, especially in a timeless neutral like cream, white, or charcoal. (Not sure what size tablecloth to buy? I found this calculator to help when I was buying mine.)

A table runner. If you keep your tablecloth neutral, your runner is where you can add a little more style. This Italian washed linen runner, also from Williams-Sonoma, is on sale right now! A warm color works well for Thanksgiving, but if you opt for the deep green shade and it can do double-duty for Christmas too. 

If you’re doing a large or elaborate centerpiece as we did at our table, stick with a solid color, adding interest through texture rather than pattern. Keeping it simple with a few candlesticks or tea lights and bud vases? Do it up and go bold.

A salad fork, dinner fork, knife, and soup spoon. Gold flatware is chic and striking without being distracting. I adore this gold flatware set from CB2 because the teardrop handles feel soft and organic, as opposed to the hard lines in other flatware sets.

A dinner plate and salad plate. I love this affordable set from West Elm. (Do yourself a favor and buy the low bowls too. They will be your go-to for giant salads and vegan grain bowls.) The white color and shine says, “I’m a classic” and the soft, organic shape says, “I’m modern.” The result is dinnerware that can be used for both special occasions and everyday meals depending on the flatware and linens you pair it with.

A cloth napkin. I have a set of these napkins in a bunch of colors so I have some ready for every season and occasion. They’re on sale right now for $27 for eight, so it’s a good time to stock up.

A water glass and a wine glass. Your glasses are another opportunity to add some soft lines to the table. If your Thanksgiving table is rectangular, your tablecloth, runner, and napkins all have hard lines. These glasses bring some softness and visual interest without adding too much.

A sprig of fresh herbs or greenery for that special little touch. Pick something from your garden or grab fresh herbs from your local grocery store or farmer’s market. Use herbs that complement the flavors of your meal. For Thanksgiving food, rosemary, sage, and bay leaves are all good choices.


Set The Table

Use the visual guide above to set the table for any dinner party:

  • After laying the tablecloth or placemats on the table, center the dinner and salad plates at each setting. 
  • The salad fork goes on the far left, with the dinner fork next to it. 
  • On the other side, the soup spoon goes on the far right, with the knife closer to the plates, blade facing in, not out.
  • The wine glass and water glass are set above the spoon and knife. 

With the napkin, you have options. Fold it and place it under the forks on the left side of the plates or put it on top of your plates. To make the sprig of rosemary pop, I put the napkin between the dinner plate and salad plate.

Create a Seasonal Centerpiece

Every year, we take Lennox Mae to the pumpkin patch before Halloween and every year, we end up with more (over-priced!) pumpkins than we know what to do with. Erin suggested repurposing the pumpkins we didn’t carve to create an autumnal tablescape. Duh! Why hadn’t I ever thought of that?! Not only is the idea smart and thrifty, but it’s also easy! 

We put a rustic burlap runner over the tablecloth, laid a bed of fall leaves, then placed pumpkins, gourds, and winter squash over the top. Choose a variety of colors and textures (Ghost pumpkins and Cinderella pumpkins are especially beautiful) and, again, enlist your littles to help.


Enjoy the Holiday

Entertaining can be stressful, but don’t forget to take the time to breathe, express gratitude for all the blessings in your life, and enjoy the time spent with your loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving, Fam!

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Photography - Erica Allen
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