How to set a table for Thanksgiving

Holding a dinner party or hosting a family meal for a special occasion? Find out how to set your table for everything from Christmas dinner to Thanksgiving with this simple step-by-step

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Be it Christmas, a family reunion or a birthday dinner, a well-presented table elevates any home-cooked meal to make it feel that little bit more special. Every occasion can benefit from not only laying the table with the correct dinnerware, but also adding final flourishes like centrepieces and candles.

So, Real Homes stylist Anna Morley talks us through the key steps to creating beautiful table settings for any function.

1. Covering the table: tablecloths, runners and placemats

Although not essential, a tablecloth will help protect your dining table. You can get round, square and rectangular options and you will want it to be large enough to overhang the table a bit, but not so much that guests end up accidentally pulling it off – and all of the table's contents with it. If you don't have a table cloth, you could even use a roll of gift wrap or brown paper.

A runner travels the length of the table and can be used as a home for serving bowls, wine bottles and decorations. Placemats are then positioned for each person and larger versions can accommodate the cutlery too.

John Lewis tableware

Invest in a separate set of tableware for special occasions. We love John Lewis's jewel toned glasses and gold trim bar ware

(Image: © John Lewis tableware)

2. Table setting: the 'proper' way

If you have any experience of fine dining, you will know that many people still ascribe to the view that a table must be set a certain way. For formal occasions these rules are usually adhered to, but for dinners at home, it is totally up to you how strict you are with where the salad forks go – if you are using salad forks that is...

There are some basic (oh blimey, the posh neighbours are coming round) guidelines:

  • Use a charger or placemat for each person. This will protect the table from heat and spillages.
  • Cutlery should be placed in order of use – work your way outside in. For most of us, this will mean starter knives and forks on the outside. 
  • Knives should face the placemat with their serrated side.
  • Many place dessert cutlery above the plate, but you might wish to put it to the side, or even keep from the table until dessert is served if space is an issue.
  • Water and wine glasses should go to the upper right-hand side of the plate. Again, you may wish to omit until wine is served to keep the tablescape tidy.
  • For a more casual setting, you can place all of the cutlery on a napkin to the side of the plate. This is another great space-saver.
  • Place names or place settings, add a personal touch (and are great for forcing estranged relatives to sit next to each other).

When it comes to tableware, you can either stack a dinner plate, side plate and bowl in each place, or bring them to the table as they are needed. If you do decide to stack them, make a feature of it, finishing with a sprig of something seasonal, a napkin with a ring that matches your scheme or even a mini cracker for Christmas.

Oka Callanish dining table

Oka's Conisbrough dining table comfortably seats six for a formal affair

(Image: © Oka Callanish dining table)

3. The centrepiece

Adding a centrepiece to your table is the final touch to any celebration. What you choose will depend on how much room you have available and what your decorating style is.

You can buy a variety of floral centrepieces, or add a pretty display of candles that will also create a lovely ambient glow. Arranging the centrepiece and other elements on a tray or wooden trug makes it easy to remove should you need to make room for serving dishes.

LED wax candles by Lights4fun

Keep it simple with a centrepiece of candles. These LED candles from Lights4Fun are a safer option than real candles on a packed table

(Image: © Lights4fun)

4. Additional placemats and coasters

With the foundations of your table setting in place, you can now fill any gaps with coasters or mats for serving dishes and glasses. This is a practical touch that will limit spills on the table cloth and allow you to put down hot bowls.

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