How to Set a Table for Thanksgiving in 3 Easy Steps

Setting the table for Thanksgiving can be an afterthought. After all, it's just placing some glasses, plates, and silverware down before the food starts coming out of the kitchen, right? Well, that's true, for the most part. However, there are some things to consider, and on a day when there is already so much running around to get the big meal just right, why leave anything to chance?

If you're forgoing the paper plates to maintain a sense of tradition and decorum, here are some simple steps that will ease at least a little of your holiday-preparation stress and hopefully leave your guests--even if it's just a party of one (yourself)--impressed.

Thanksgiving table setting
Add candles, table runners, or pine cones to your Thanksgiving dinner table for an extra festive feel. Getty

Start with plates and napkins. Rather, start with place mats before even setting a plate down. Cranberry sauce, gravy, butter-drenched turkey--all these are foods destined to leave a stain on your wooden table tops or a nice linen tablecloth. Hence, you'll want place mats or, if entertaining a larger group, just go with a vinyl tablecloth.

Then set out the plates, starting with the largest one designated for the main course. Place a salad plate on top of that. Just be careful when setting plates on top of one another if you're using nice china.

Put out napkins on the right side of the plates, folded in a classic rectangle, or dust off the napkin rings if you own any. If you have kids present that need something to occupy them, get them involved by finding fun shapes online for them to fold the napkins into. Good Housekeeping has several ideas, including a video of how to make a napkin turkey.

Silverware comes next. Follow the classic formal dinner settings for the silverware, which includes forks sitting on the left side of the plates--a smaller fork on the outside for appetizers and salads and a larger one closest to the plate for the main course.

On the right side of the plates, place a knife nearest to the plate--blade facing in--and a spoon to the right of the knife. A soup spoon and dessert spoon to the right of the knife go next to the knife in descending order of size. Keep a uniform appearance by lining up the bottom of the utensils straight with the bottom of the plate.

Finally, the drinkware. All drinkware should be placed on the right side of your table setting, above the knife and spoon. All guests should have a water glass--this will be a salty meal, after all--and it should be set at the top, over the knife. If wine is being served, set the wine glass to the right and just below the water glass, over the spoon. If you're serving both red and white, the red wine glass goes to the right of the white and slightly lower. (This isn't a hard rule, though. Wine glasses can go in either order, especially since guests will inevitably move them, but be consistent in their placing on the table.) Dessert glasses are best to leave off the table during the main meal; there will be a lot of hands passing around food, and why set yourself up for breaking a tiny glass?

A bowl or bread plate with a butter knife is always a good option to add to the mix. You should place those on the opposite side of the glasses by the forks. Of course, dessert plates only come out with the dessert wine glasses once the main plates and silverware are cleared. If you really want to make the day easier, try to stick with dishwasher-safe items.