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How to Set a Beautiful, Inviting Table (for Two or 20)

Take pleasure in laying a table that is warm, welcoming—and practical for your holiday meal.

Setting a holiday table
Credit: Getty Images

The pandemic still might be limiting your guest list this year, but a holiday or any festive occasion deserves a special, warm and welcoming table.

Here are three simple things that make up my idea of a festive, relaxed table to enjoy with your household’s “regulars” or special holiday guests. The best news of all, you can do this a few days ahead of time to minimize holiday stress.

First, put down a tablecloth or set of placemats—something that either connects you with memories of past celebrations or gives your eating space a fresh new look that’s a little bit holiday-different. 

You don’t need a fancy or expensive tablecloth—it just has to be pleasing to your eye, easy to clean, and ready to catch any drips from the gravy boat or spoonful of cranberry sauce. Cloth napkins are also an inexpensive and eco-friendly way to spruce up your table. I have a favorite tablecloth, one that I bought years ago on a special trip. Every time I take it out, I think of that one word: special.

Second, set the whole table. I like to think through everything I’ll be serving at a dinner and make sure everything within reason—especially silverware—is laid out before anyone takes their seats. After all, you’re not a catering hall. Wouldn’t you rather relax with loved ones than be clearing and re-setting the table? 

My favorite hack is to place a dessert teaspoon and fork above the dinner plate, where they won’t get in the way of the main meal, but will be ready to roll when the pies and coffee show up.

Third, think small when it comes to table decorations. My table-setting hero Ina Garten has a rule that flowers on a table should be lush…and low. Just a few blossoms of sizable flowers like hydrangeas or roses can be cut short to fill out a simple, low vase. That way your table looks polished and celebratory but won’t cost a lot of time or money. And it won’t block your view of the people you’re thankful to see across the table. 

Most of all, I wish you all delicious, peaceful holiday meals, either seated in your own good company or with the ones you love, with gratitude for yourself and each other, on holidays and every day.

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