The Holiday Dinner Table: How to Make Extra Space

Thanksgiving is one holiday that seems to bring out our hostess instincts, even in the most undomesticated. In honor of all of us holiday dinner-givers who have graciously invited the immediate world to come for turkey (and they all said yes), here are some quick maneuvers that may help you find the space for them that you really don’t have.

Try placing new faces with family members who can help entertain the newcomers in the foreign land while you’re busy getting things served.

Individual, smaller tables placed in various spots throughout the living room, den, family room or even large foyer might be nice if you can group particular types of guests together at each table. Example: Elementary-age or teenage cousins who see each other only on such occasions will actually enjoy having their own table. This holds true for relatives who have traveled great distances.

The holiday ritual of carving the turkey generally has been set at the head of the table. If separate or non-traditional seating arrangements prevent a formal head of the table, simply create your own custom. Family speeches, prayers, and carving can all take place near, if not at, the table. A beautifully arranged sideboard buffet can be the focal point of the holiday meal. Allow plenty of room for the turkey to be carved so all can see, and then have all help themselves if the seating arrangements will not allow for traditional passing of the platters.

The sketch shows long tables, which can be rented from a party supply house, arranged in such a fashion that everyone can be seated at the same table. This arrangement will require a large room, such as a play room, family room, or even the finished basement. The meal itself can be presented as a very elaborate buffet set up on additional long tables or set directly in the middle of the main table. This arrangement will be more than ample to accommodate all the food and a centerpiece as well. Tablecloths for such a large table can be rented, or you can buy patterned sheets and coordinated napkins.

When looking for extra seating, keep in mind these rules of thumb for comfort and ample elbow room:

  • Allow a minimum space of 24 inches at the table for each person. This will allow ample room for the chair and the required pieces of table service.


  • Make sure, if you rent tables, that they are large enough to accommodate the required numbers.


  • Remember, too, that if you are using bridge chairs or rented side chairs, you can accommodate more people than with larger wooden dining chairs, with or without arms.

Here’s a quick-fit rundown: 42-inch round table, 4-6 people; 48 inches round, 6-8 people; 60 inches round, 8-10 people; 72 inches round, 10-12 people. With tables 6 feet long by 30 inches wide, you can squeeze 8 people; 8 feet by 30 inches wide, squeeze 10 people.

The problem with rented rectangular tables is that they are very narrow, and often the legs are placed in such an awkward position that it is difficult to get the place settings at the head and foot of the tables. When putting the rectangles end to end for a long banquet arrangement, you will lose the seats at the ends of the two tables that butt each other. You should, however, make up the loss by allowing a person to straddle the seam of the tables.

Another problem when serving people is having enough matching china, glassware and silverware. If you are the one in the family who always hosts the meal, it pays to invest in matching tableware. But since many place settings of highly decorative patterns can be costly and, if broken, not easily matched, try buying simple, white, non-patterned China, then decorate your table with a patterned cloth and napkins to match. These can be changed for different seasons if you choose to rent then, or you can make your own by purchasing fabrics or sheets that coordinate with the decor of the room. Don’t forget to buy enough fabric for the buffet table as well.

Other possibilities for seating a lot of guests include forming either a “T” with your existing table and a folding table perpendicular to it or, perhaps, moving your dining room table into the living room or the foyer. These ideas all are based on freeing yourself of the conventional dining room approach at holiday time.

If you are inspired to have more people than the dining room can accommodate — go ahead. The more the merrier, even if you have to sit on Uncle Harry’s lap. That’s called family planning.