3 Steps to Designing a Holiday Dinner Tablescape

Setting the table before dinner in the Diment household is a family ritual. My dad insists the table isn’t set unless all the essential mealtime extras are out – every salad dressing from the shelf, butter, salt, pepper, extra napkins etc. (he’s probably reading this thinking I forgot something, hence the need for that etc.). When it comes to settings, each seat always has a placemat, utensils, napkin, and a water glass, but we weren’t necessarily picky about the placement of it all until I started working as a hostess at Uncle Bill’s in Avalon. My job involved running over to tables as they were cleared and resetting them with paper menu placemats and utensils for the following customers. It should come as no surprise now that this job is entirely why proper utensil placement is so second nature to me. Fork on the left, knife on the right (blade facing inwards), and spoon to the right of the knife. Pretty simple, and once you do it hundreds of times a day for multiple summers it becomes quite impossible to forget. 


But alas, we’re here today to talk about holiday table settings. We’re sharing some of our secrets to creating the perfect holiday tablescape with elements you likely already have in your own home or can find at a local thrift shop. We’ve broken it down into a simple, 3 step process that will help guide the styling and design of your tabletop. 

STEP 1: ESTABLISH YOUR BASES

  1. Placemats or charger plates?

  2. Tablecloth or table runner?

  3. Napkins folded with or without rings?

First, start with what we refer to as your table bases. These are typically the first items I choose when styling a tablescape – I usually choose one pattern from either a tablecloth or placemat to build the entire look off of. Once these are established it becomes a lot easier to decide on plates and serving ware.


Hot take here: don’t be afraid to mix patterns!


This is a must IMO – I find it so satisfying to mix and match contrasting patterns that add dimension and personality to a table design. You can do this with your placemats, napkins, tablecloth, even your plates and glassware. Step out of your comfort zone and go bold, this is supposed to be fun. It’s only your table setting for an evening, not your living room furniture for the next 5-10 years.

STEP 2: PLATES, SERVING WARE, AND UTENSILS

After you’ve picked out your linens and color palette, let’s get to choosing your serving ware. This includes:

  1. dinner plates

  2. salad plates

  3. utensils

  4. serving bowls and trays

  5. & glasses for water and wine (if serving)

If you don’t have a lot of variety in your china cabinet (having multiple sets of plates can take up a lot of space!) I recommend getting a nice set of white dinner plates that you can pair with colorful salad plates. Treat yourself to some loud, seasonal show-stoppers to bring in and out of rotation throughout the year- I find myself using these daily with a quick breakfast or at night with milk and cookies. We also display these on our countertop for easy access and additional kitchen décor. My preference is to include both a dinner and a salad plate at each seat, but see what you have and don’t shy away from using a bread dish or berry bowl instead. There are no rules!


As I mentioned earlier, utensil placement goes like this: fork on the left, knife on the right (blade facing in), spoon to the right of the knife. If you have a salad fork, it goes to the left of your dinner fork and if you’re using a teaspoon and soup spoon, the smaller of the two goes directly next to the knife and the larger on the far right. See image for reference below:

STEP 3: JAZZ IT UP, BABY

And last but certainly not least, top it all off with decorations. Place a lit candle votive on each plate, or grab some flowers from Trader Joe’s and cut off some short sprigs to tuck them into napkin rings. Below are some of our favorite ways to put the finishing touches on our tablescapes that tie it all together:

  1. Garland down the table center.

  2. Tapered and/or votive candles (careful with dripping wax on linens – can be a pain to get out!).

  3. Name cards/menus (we love instant downloadable templates from Etsy – they’re affordable and such an easy way to elevate a simple tablescape into an occasion).

  4. Use a sugar pot or creamer from your favorite china set for cut flowers (pro tip – these are easy to thrift and super cheap).

  5. Trader Joe’s has awesome and super affordable florals. Cut off some flowers or sprigs of baby’s breath to tuck into your napkin rings. 

  6. Another tip: keep an eye out while you’re thrifting for small little glass or crystal vases. I love the look of setting each seat with its own little floral vase, and it’s an incredibly affordable way to elevate your table top.

Last but not least…

One more thing before I let you get to planning your holiday table – start early. There’s no worse feeling than running around like a chicken with its head cut off the morning of your dinner party and realizing you won’t have a chance to get done everything you wanted to accomplish. Write the name cards and print the menus days in advance, choose your bases and plates the Monday before so you can figure out if you’ll need to pick up anything else during the week. You can even start setting your table the week leading up to your occasion – your family won’t complain about eating by the TV or at the kitchen island for a few days.

It sounds like a lot of work but you’d be surprised how quickly you can get everything together when you take just 10 mins a day to cross things off your list. And most importantly, you want to have time to enjoy the company and event you’re hosting – you deserve to have a good time, too!


Tag us in your tablescapes this holiday season using the hashtag #GCOtablescape and we’ll share your masterpieces with the class!

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