How to Set a Thanksgiving Table

Author: Alecia Pirulis  

A formal table setting.

A formal table setting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If food is the star of the Thanksgiving holiday, then the table is your stage. If you are hosting Thanksgiving in your apartment this year, be sure you set the stage. While it isn’t necessary, it will make all the difference – just as the props enhance the play and help make the actors shine, your tablescape frames your food. You worked hard on the turkey, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce – so show it off with gorgeous props!

First, decide on your colors and scheme. You can go traditional with a white tablecloth and muted tones of gold and silver; natural with gourds, pears, apples, cork, twine, and wood; modern with gray, black, and silver; or quirky with bold color combinations such as purple or hot pink.

Next, consider your dishware. You want to use what you have, if possible. I have one set of “good” dishes that make an appearance once a year on Thanksgiving. With the limited space of an apartment, you may not have stowed-away “good” china. You can use your everyday dishes, borrow dishes from a friend or relative, or head to the local dollar store.

Mix and match plate sizes and colors, and don’t forget the glasses! Also, look for chargers – they add a pop of color to your table and a hint of elegance. Don’t use them as plates — they are not food-safe. Instead, place the plate on top of the charger. The charger is usually removed with the dishware after the first course, but can be left through the main course. It should be removed before dessert is served.

To arrange dishes in a formal setting, set the salad plate (and soup bowl, if necessary) on top of the charger. Put the water glass to the right of the plate and set the wineglass to the right of the water glass. On top of the charger, put a salad plate (and/or a soup bowl, depending on what you are serving as the first course).

Silverware should be set in the order that it is used, from the outside in. So the salad fork would go on the left, the farthest from the plate, then the dinner fork. The knife for the first course goes the farthest on the right. The soup spoon goes to the right of the knife. The bread plate and butter knife will sit above the forks. If you include a dessert fork and teaspoon for after-dinner coffee, those should be arranged above the plate.

Think of the centerpiece as that one important prop that ties the entire theme together. This idea for glass jars with candles and different types of dried legumes and berries is simple and beautiful. Place a grouping of different-sized pumpkins, gourds, and pinecones on a table runner. Spray-paint a pumpkin to match your color scheme, cut the top off, and scoop out the insides. Fill the pumpkin with fresh-cut flowers. Or fill a vase with flowers and add a few mini pumpkins and berries. A modern tablescape could include white pumpkins, white roses, gourds spray-painted silver, and white pillar candles in hurricane glasses.

Cloth napkins add a spark of elegance to your table, as well. If you don’t have napkin holders, you can wrap them with twine or ribbon, or twist fake berries around them.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a beautiful table. The dollar store, the office-supply store, the grocery store, and even your local second-hand store are great resources for finding unique items. Your Thanksgiving table is a stage for a much-anticipated annual show, so make sure it is one that will bring you rave reviews.