Ever scratched your head while setting the table and wondered, which side does the napkin go on? Fear not! We don’t have room in our brains to keep that information handy all year long, so we’ve put together a guide for you to reference whenever you need a refresher. With a foolproof list, you can put a Thanksgiving dinner to remember on the table with a smile that’s genuine. You can rest assured knowing that the turkey will be done on time, the mashed potatoes will be whipped and not gluey, and you’ll actually be able to sit at the table instead of suffering alone in the kitchen. Relax, and enjoy the party!

Your Table Setting Cheat Sheet

Place forks to the left of your plate; knives and spoons to the right. Arrange from the outside in based on which utensil you’ll use first. For example, on the left side, you’d place the salad fork (identified because it’s smaller and wider than the dinner fork) to the far left, then the dinner fork. On the right side, the knife is closest to the plate with the spoons on the outside.

The venerable Emily Post Institute advises to think ‘FORKS’—minus the ‘R’—working from left to right, as a helpful way to remember:

  • ­F: forks
  • O: the plate
  • K: knives
  • S: spoons

Set wine glasses to the right of the plate, just above the dinner knife. Place the water glass on the bottom right. The bread plate belongs above the forks and napkins.


The napkin goes either to the left of the fork, or on the very outside. If you have three forks in a formal table setting, put the napkin on the plate. When you sit down, unfold the napkin, and put it in your lap. If you get up, put it on your chair. Once you’re finished eating, set your napkin down to the left of your plate.


Don’t forget that small details can make a big impact on your Thanksgiving table. Try adding a few mini pumpkins or an arrangement of red, orange, and yellow flowers for a personal touch that will make guests feel special.

And finally, avoid the temptation to clear the table and start washing dishes…that can wait until after your family and friends leave.

Your Essential Traditional Thanksgiving Checklist

Here’s everything you’ll need on the day, summarized.

  1. Your best silver flatware: china, crystal, tablecloths, and cloth napkins—or whatever you’re planning to set the table with! Make sure to locate, and polish or clean in advance!
  2. Extra chairs, table leaves, and tables: anything you might need to accommodate your crowd.
  3. All the condiments: salt, pepper, and dressings to accompany the meals.
  4. Flowers or holiday table décor: see our bonus tips on table décor for inspiration!
  5. Pre-dinner drinks: make sure you have beverages for both kids and grown-ups. Think juice, sparkling cider, or soda for the kids, and champagne, juice spritzers, sparkling water, wine, or cocktails for the adults.
  6. Hors d’oeuvres: nuts and olives in colorful bowls, fancy cheese and charcuterie, grapes and dried pears, plus something hot like these Thanksgiving-style smashed potatoes.
  7. Appetizer or cocktail napkins
  8. Dinner wine and beverages
  9. Traditional stuffed, roasted turkey: or your triumphant main dish of choice! If using a turkey, allow time to bring it to room temperature before putting it in the oven.
  10. Cranberry sauce
  11. Roasted or steamed vegetables: like carrots, brussels sprouts, or peas
  12. Mashed potatoes: try them with brown butter with these Boursin mashed potatoes. If you’re in a hurry, try these 15 Minute Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes to speed up preparation time!
  13. Dinner rolls with butter: if you want to get fancy, you can prep some mashed Creamer potatoes ahead of time to make these Garlic Herb Potato Rolls.
  14. Pie or your favorite holiday dessert: plus ice cream or whipped cream.
  15. Coffee and tea: for after-dinner service.
  16. Liqueur, champagne, or dessert wine
  17. A long bubble bath for the host!

One Last Piece of Advice

Be sure to start your turkey early, most likely after breakfast, and look up the roasting and resting times in advance, so you are well-informed of the timeframe. You don’t want to have an over-or-under-done bird when dinner time rolls around. Then write up a play-by-play schedule of to-dos for the week before, the day before, and the day of. Good luck!