To impress your guests on Turkey Day, you don't need a formal table setting — but it certainly doesn't hurt. Even the snarkiest relative will be fresh out of comments when she sees your gleaming glasses and neatly arranged silverware. But family-style dining can be just as fancy if you know how to upgrade your etiquette. Take it from Renita Jackson, etiquette consultant with Jackson Etiquette in St. Peters, Missouri.
"You need to decide what mood you want to set for your guests," Jackson says. "Once you've decided that, then you can set the table accordingly."
Follow Vox's stress-free guide to table setting, and prepare to wow your Thanksgiving guests.
Formal table setting
Setting the table for a formal dinner means you'll serve multiple courses. Instead of setting all the food on the table, you will serve dishes to your guests one at a time, with the turkey as your entree.
"If you have three courses, let's just say those may be soup and salad, and then your entree and dessert, and you will want a utensil for each one of those," Jackson says. "Make sure you have enough pieces in your table setting for each course."
You can add place cards on top of napkins if you want certain people sitting in certain locations — away from or near one another.
Oh, and don't forget one of the most important formal dining rules: Place your napkin in your lap.
Family-style dining table setting
Family-style table setups feature a noticeable lack of forks and knives. Because you're serving yourself, and every dish is available on the table — like a buffet — you only need one fork and knife, but remember to not crowd your plate, Jackson says.
"Still, basically it would be nice to have it set based on the number of courses you're having," Jackson says. "Your food items will all be on the table; that will be a nice additive to decorating your table as well."
Whoever is closest to a dish should pick it up, serve themselves and then pass counterclockwise. This way, no one will be bumping dishes, and everyone will eventually get some of everything.
Jackson recommends starting dinner prep early if you're doing it for the first time or if you're nervous about hosting. There are many things you can do in advance, such as setting the table the night before your event so you don't have to worry about it the next morning.
If you don't want to worry about simultaneously entertaining guests and preparing the meal, you should have drinks and appetizers ready for family and friends when they arrive. That way, they'll be kept busy why you finish cooking, Jackson says.
If you've got family coming for the holiday, you can enlist them to help you stay on track, Jackson says. Have someone light the candles or serve appetizers. Don't be afraid to delegate small tasks to a guest.
"Plan ahead, and do as much as you can ahead of time," Jackson says. "Remain calm, and don't panic."