How to Set the Table: Casual and Formal Dining Plans

One of the best things about the holidays is the diversity of traditions, whether newly formed or generations old. We've had Thanksgivings surrounded by pressed linens and cut crystal and have also hunkered down for a family-style affair of the most laid-back variety. Luckily your level of formality doesn't require skimping on style. Whether your holiday meal and atmosphere feels more Downton Abbey or Modern Family, we have a place setting for you.


header1_caCharacterised by unfussy utensils and paired-down glassware, the heart of the casual setting is the simplicity of its elements. A great-looking plate and napkin combination plays host to only essential flatware and a single wine glass.


Simple doesn't need to be boring. To avoid an empty-looking place setting, why not try adding a great placemat to bring another layer to your table top décor?


A less crowded set-up doesn't mean the rest of the tablescape needs to suffer. Centerpieces and floral arrangements can still be high impact and chic, in fact, more space on the table can allow for additional decorative elements. Add in candles, bud vases, or seasonal objects to add some texture to your table.

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Raffia Placemats, $38, Serena & Lily Red Rimmed Plate, $14, Furbish Studio Nouveau Feather Napkins, $10, World Market
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Black Walnut Trencher Board, $98, Kaufmann Mercantile Blue Modern Goblet, $33, ABC Carpet & Home Almoco Flatware, From $30, DWR



More involved than the casual place setting, the key to mastering this set-up is to work from the outside in. The flatware needed for the first courses will be placed on the outermost edges of the setting. As courses progress, work your way through the utensils moving toward central changer which is often removed when the service begins.


A formal table will include both a red and white wine glass (click here for a refresher on the difference), typically a champagne flute, as well as a water glass.  A separate salad plate and bread plate with butter knife is also customary.


A place card is definitely standard in a formal setting. Also, keep in mind that knife blades always point in toward the plate and keep your spacing between all components equal. With the increased number of elements, your placement of each object needs to be precise to avoid overcrowding.

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Stowe Tray, $250, Jayson Home Vera Wang Wedgewood With Love Noir Dinnerware, From $21, Bloomingdale's Ichendorf Milano Arles Crystal Glassware, From $96, Unica Home
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Gardenia Dinner Napkin, $20, Oscar de la Renta Nate Berkus Elephant Placecard Holder, $10, Target ValPeltro Pewter Flatware Service, $600, Neiman Marcus

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