Seating Ideas for Holiday Meal Hosts
With so many dishes and serving utensils, not to mention the number of guests and decorations, Thanksgiving puts a dining room to the test. While some may solve the space issues and opt for buffet-style serving that encourages a casual atmosphere of sitting anywhere around a home, others may decide to serve guests in shifts at the table.
If you’d rather have everyone gathered at the same time around the table for the big meal, check out the following 13 ways to help maximize the number of diners in your dining space at home.
Clear the Space
If the dining room is filled with nonessentials, clear it out for the holiday. Especially in a small dining room, everything that isn’t attached to the walls—save a table and chairs—could be moved to create the maximum available space. This “less is more” approach will make the room seem more spacious, and a spacious room can feel more comfortable. Also, removing unnecessary furniture and decor will place emphasis on the table and guests.
In a small home, it can be difficult to find extra space to temporarily store the dining room’s extra items. However, it’s best to move them into non-gathering areas, like a bedroom or closet, so they don’t end up blocking hallways or crowding a sitting room where guests may enjoy relaxing after the meal. Plus, using collapsible baskets with lids like the Yawinhe Collapsible Storage Boxes keeps decor treasures safe, and the boxes tuck neatly out of the way when everything is on full display.
Set Up a Buffet
Take the burden off your dining room table by serving food in the kitchen on a table, countertop, or island. The more dishes on the table, the less room for your guests to enjoy their meal. For second helpings, guests can simply return to the kitchen, or hosts might take a mid-meal lap around the table.
To make sure food stays at the optimal temperature throughout the meal, consider using a warming tray like the Nutrichef Electric Warming Tray that has adjustable temperature control and can fit several dishes on the warm 21-inch by 16-inch surface.
Ride the Bench
If big, bulky chairs are occupying more than their fair share of space in your dining room, consider using a bench along one side of the table to accommodate a few additional guests. It’s a family holiday, after all; a little extra closeness is fitting.
Choosing a multifunctional bench like the HOMCOM tufted storage ottoman bench that offers interior storage can be even more helpful in a small space.
Extend the Table
Many larger rectangular dining tables are made in a 36-inch by 72-inch standard size with one leaf. If your dining table does not have an extra leaf, you can still extend the size of your table. One option is to use a prefinished “company board” (available at Allwood Furniture), or place a plywood board on top, as Diane from In My Own Style did. (Read her full tutorial here.) With a thick tablecloth laid over the top of the plywood and the edges routed, no one will know the secret.
Limit Table Decor
As tempting as it may be to adorn your table with an elaborate centerpiece or grouping of candles, tablescape decor can quickly become clutter if space is short. Instead, opt for minimal ornaments on the table and make the most of your table’s total surface area for what’s essential for the meal.
Choosing those meal essentials—tablecloths, plates, and napkins—that are in the holiday theme can infuse the space with festive cheer, like a set of Thankful napkins from ChrismaKDesigns on Etsy, or a Thanksgiving tablecloth . Other decorations can still be included by using temporary hanging strips and hooks on walls or along windows and doorways.
Establish a Kids’ Table
Creating a separate area for kids to dine is an old standby idea that works, and usually many youngsters prefer to be on their own anyway during a large gathering. If your guest list overwhelms your dining room’s capacity, consider creating a satellite table for kids, teens, or even for some of the adults with a table pulled from another part of your home.
If no extra table exists, and a mini-table for kids conjures images of brightly colored plastic, fear not. There are more sophisticated options available, like this table and chair set from Delta that comes in a mix of calm blue and gray hues.
Take It Outside
If you are fortunate enough to live in a warmer climate, why not move the feast outdoors? You can always use the dining room table as an indoor buffet station, and then enjoy the meal on a deck or patio—even by the pool.
If you live in a climate where it’s cooler for several months out of each year and entertaining outdoors on Thanksgiving Day sounds less than appealing, consider investing in a portable outdoor heater. One worth considering is Amazon Basics' 89-inch gas heater, which delivers 46,000 BTUs within a 9-foot radius.
RELATED: The Best Outdoor Heaters of 2021
Rethink the Space
If your table is a tight fit for your dining room, brainstorm ways to position it differently. If you position the table diagonally, it might give guests on the ends a little more breathing room, or even free up space for a couple more chairs. Creative seating, such as a few bar stools or corner benches (we like the Corrigan Studio Hearston Upholstered Bench), works too!
Pro tip: If you position a rectangular table in the room diagonally, you may have room for a smaller table in a corner, too.
Upgrade the Dining Table
For hosts who love to entertain large gatherings often, upgrading to a larger dining table with extensions may be a smart move. Not only will you be able to accommodate more guests at Thanksgiving, but you'll also have space to host birthday parties and other fun celebrations.
When shopping for a dining table, keep in mind that diners usually feel comfortable if they have about 24 inches of space at the table. Using this number as a guide, you can easily figure out how many people a table can accommodate. For example, the Freya Extendable Trestle Dining Table expands from 68 inches long to 96 inches and can accommodate eight or more guests.
Add an Expandable Side Table
While it may be best to remove extra furniture from the dining room when hosting a large group for a holiday meal, there is one useful item that may benefit from being moved into the dining room.
A slim expandable table can function as a buffet, entryway table, or console sofa table for day-to-day use, and then transform into an extra dining table when needed. The contemporary-style Winsome Suzanne kitchen table, for example, expands from a 23-inch by15-inch side table to a 23-inch by 29-inch dining table that'll accommodate a few additional dinner guests.
Extend the Table Through the Doorway
For hosts who have homes with dining rooms next to family rooms, consider extending the dining table into the next room with another table or two. You could bring in an outdoor table and line it up through the doorway to another interior room or out through a sliding glass door onto the deck or patio.
If you don’t have an outdoor dining table to use, consider investing in a versatile and expandable wood table like the Walker Edison Maui modern solid acacia wood table that expands from 55 to 79 inches.
Go Round for More Leg Space
When gathering around a table with friends and family, there’s bound to be a knee or foot tap underneath the table. If extra legroom can help fit more guests for dinner, consider a round pedestal table. These types of tables usually offer additional legroom since they are usually supported by one center pedestal leg. One model to consider is the Ostler Extendable Solid Oak Pedestal Dining Table, which expands from 48 inches to 66 inches and can easily accommodate six diners.
Swap in Skinnier Chairs
Eliminating the extras around the table may also include the bulk from upholstered dining armchairs. Using skinnier armless chairs that are more compact than existing chairs will allow guests to sit closer and make it easier to get up and down from the table for seconds.
However, skinny and straight-legged doesn’t mean chairs have to be uncomfortable. They can be upholstered for comfort, like the Roundhill Furniture Habit tufted gray dining chairs, or of a simple design like the Signature Design by Ashley Nelling chairs.
When shopping for new chairs, keep in mind that typical dining tables are 29 to 32 inches tall. Most people are comfortable with dining chairs that are about 18 inches tall and leave about 12 inches of space between the seat and the table.
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