'Tis the season...the weather has turned cool and crisp, fall is upon us ... and therefore so is the season of ‘family and friends gathered around a table’ holidays. This incites panic in some and joy in others. I love any excuse to entertain, so holidays that are centered around food are some of my favorites! A large part of the hospitality experience is the setting – we experience an event with all our senses and food served in an attractive manner and setting not only tastes better, it also invites us to slow down and enjoy the moment and the company.
I’m not promising that a beautiful table will have your guests asking for seconds on the kale and turnip salad OR that weird Uncle Arthur won’t tell the same lame jokes as last year, but a pleasant atmosphere can help make all those things more tolerable.
It is easy to entertain elegantly and you don’t necessarily have to cook – I happen to love to cook, but knowing where to BUY the best selections for your menu is just as good as knowing how to make them, and I will often buy the things I don’t have time to make rather than sacrifice the opportunity to entertain. Presentation is everything. SO, now that you can stop stressing over having to turn into Martha Stewart or Ina Garten to invite anyone over, lets talk about the table.
Elegance doesn’t necessarily mean formal, it just requires a few simple changes that turn the ordinary into something special.
The key ingredients are
- Serving Pieces - yes, unless you are plating the food in the kitchen onto individual guest plates, you should transfer your food onto/into serving dishes…this includes drinks and condiments - Mabel, Mabel strong and able keep your labels off the table... I know, I know, that isn’t how it traditionally goes, but it IS one of the variations at our house! The exception to this rule would be wine…that bottle is totally allowed on the table!
- Dishes, Glassware, and Flatware – mixing it up is far more interesting than matched sets. Much like the suites of furniture that have gone by the wayside in favor of a more collected and curated look, sets of dishes can and should be inter-mixed with other patterns. I reuse the same basic glassware and flatware, but change up which dinner plates, salad plates, bread plates, and bowls I use depending on the color and theme I want…if I had unlimited storage, I would undoubtedly collect more dishes, glassware, and flatware to choose from.
- Table Linens – this includes tablecloths, runners or placemats, and napkins. A variety of colored or patterned napkins are easy to store. I prefer cloth napkins for dinner parties, but will concede to pretty paper napkins for larger gatherings and buffets, or cocktail parties.
- Decorations - this could include centerpieces, candles, plants or flowers, charger plates, place cards, napkin rings…all the extras that define the mood. The possibilities are endless! I have at least 6 different styles and colors of charger plates and they are one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to help a place setting look special.
Setting an elegant table uses the same principles as designing a room – an awareness of scale, color, shape, and texture are some of the key ingredients.
The next post in this series will focus on some basic items to stock that will make elegant entertaining an effortless task,