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Ask Jennifer Adams: Your holiday table doesn’t need to follow traditional etiquette rules

Wondering how to set a proper table and be creative? Here are Jennifer’s thoughts on place settings for any occasion.

You can have a "proper" set table and still be creative.
You can have a "proper" set table and still be creative.Read more

Q: Last year my boyfriend and I hosted Thanksgiving and invited our parents, friends and siblings. A family friend had a bit of a fit because our table wasn’t set “properly.” She thought some people used their water glass for wine or something, and used the wrong fork for salad. We set out two forks, a knife and a spoon for dessert, glasses, napkins, and the plates were over by the food because we served buffet style. Everybody else thought the table looked really nice. For this year’s holidays, we are again hosting everyone. Should we change what we do?

A: For starters, don’t let that one person’s opinion get you down. If you and everybody else thought your table was great, then, it was! Being a good host means effortlessly helping your guests feel at ease, and if they’re worrying about what fork to use, they’re not comfortable. Setting a beautiful table is such a fun way to be creative and making it accessible and easy to figure out is even better.

These days, a massive traditional layout with dozens of forks, spoons, knives and glasses that need an app to navigate aren’t necessary. Many of us simply don’t have a big enough table for all of that. Those old-school rules made more sense when every course was brought out to the guests, and that particular fork/knife/spoon was whisked away with the dirty dish.

As long as your guests have what they need where they can find it, all is good. If your table is small or you want to be creative, think through the meal and what would make sense for your style. For example, if you’re doing a family-style salad first and a buffet for the main meal, you could set the salad plate on a beautiful charger or large plate that is decorative. Once your guests are done with the salad, they can take that dish to the kitchen sink and pick up a fresh dinner plate and work their way through the buffet. All the flatware should be on the table, ready to go. Drinks and dessert can be their own thing: Just bring out those glasses, dishes, and utensils as needed. And use the smaller glass for wine!

Keep me posted with what you end up with. For more ideas on an effortless style for the holidays, go to my blog.

Have a design dilemma? Jennifer Adams is an award-winning designer, TV personality and author of the upcoming book “Love Coming Home: Transform Your Environment. Transform Your Life.” Send your questions to or for more design ideas, visit Jennifer’s blog on her website at