Place Settings 101

Set the table and the mood for your holiday celebration with these simple how-to’s.
Images and styling inspiration from HGTV

A holiday table doesn’t need to be stuffy, but an elegant setting can elevate your holiday style far beyond the everyday. Whether your décor is rustic, urban, or traditional, these easy-to-follow guidelines can help you create a tablescape that celebrates the beauty and the spirit of the holiday season.

“The must-have for any Thanksgiving table is a great centerpiece,” says Dawn Moeske of Creative Event Rentals. “Whether you use florals or something homemade, it is important to keep your centerpiece low so that guests can see everyone across the table.” Try creating your own Thanksgiving centerpiece with a festive arrangement of flowers and gourds.

A brightly colored or textured table cloth can add depth and style to any table, but you don’t have to follow the rules; get creative! “You can always place a table runner on your Thanksgiving table instead of doing a full linen, and napkin rings and votive candles are a great way to add that attention to detail,” Moeske says. "Another easy way to spice up a tablescape is to use glassware that has a patterned rim or is brightly colored."

 As with any other party, organization is one of the keys to success. Make a checklist of all the china, flatware, serving ware, linens, and seating you require, and be sure to leave enough time to make arrangements for those items that you’ll need to rent. “It’s best to place your rental order at least two weeks before your event,” Moeske says. “This gives the rental company enough time to secure your equipment and get you on their delivery schedule.”

Since Thanksgiving meals are most often served family style, equip each place setting with all of the plates and utensils guests will need for the entire meal. Even if you plan to serve a more casual dinner, follow the place settings protocol of Miss Manners; even informal settings are based on formal rules of etiquette.

• Whether you’re using a table cloth or placemats, dinner plates should be centered in front of each chair.
• If a soup course is served, stack the soup bowls on top of the dinner plate.
• Place salad plates to the left of the dinner plate and above the utensils, at about a ten o’clock position, or may be placed on top of the dinner plates if soup is not served.
• The bread plate should be placed to the right of the dinner plate, above the utensils.
• Napkins may be placed to the left of the dinner plate under the forks, inside a goblet, or on top of the plate; visit for some creative presentation ideas.
• Silverware that is used first should be placed farthest from the plate, so guests work from the outside in.
• Traditionally, forks are placed to the left of the dinner plate, knives and spoons are placed to the right, except for the butter knife, which is placed on the bread plate.
• Knives should be placed with their cutting edge facing the dinner plate.
• Dessert silverware can be centered above the top of the dinner plate, or brought out with dessert.

When it’s time to clear the table, try a trick the caterers use: Briefly scrape dishes and silverware, and stow them away in crates to wash later. This will keep your kitchen tidy, and allow you more time with your guests.