'Tis the Season to Plan That Party Table
Have a stress-free entertaining season by having a dry run with dinnerware, table decorations and the buffet setup
To set the table for a formal dinner, start with a charger, then stack up the dinner plate and salad plate. Lay out the forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right, remembering that guests will use the silverware on the outside first and work their way in. Pull out all the stops on a nonparty day and take a snapshot you can refer to, so you’ll stress less before the big event.
Choose one colour or material to be the star of the table
Try a gleaming metallic hue for a sophisticated look or bright, clear colours for a fun, modern take; or go cozy and rustic with natural fibres. Whatever you choose, narrowing the palette will help make your table look more polished and intentional.
Oversize floral arrangements and huge candelabras may look impressive in a photo, but in real life they just block the view of your neighbours at the table and make it harder to pass the food. Keep the mood festive and conversational by going with short bouquets and lots of tiny tea lights instead. Using all-one-colour blooms in tiny vases looks chic – and is easy for even a flower-arranging beginner to pull off.
Think you’re getting off easy because you’ll be serving buffet-style? Setting up an appealing buffet that’s also easy on your guests takes a little planning. Keep plates at the beginning of the line, flatware and napkins at the end, and drinks on a separate table. If you have the room, pull your buffet table away from the wall to allow guests access from both sides. Add a vase of branches, a few tall candleholders and something purely decorative – a few nicely wrapped gifts work well during the holidays. Vary the height of your serving dishes by using a few taller pieces, like footed bowls and cake stands.
At a big holiday dinner, the food alone is enough to make the table groan – set up a separate bar to ease the pressure. Whether you are doing a buffet or seated dinner, keep a nearby sideboard outfitted with the essentials: bottles, opener, bucket for chilled wine, carafes of water, rows of glasses and a stack of cocktail napkins, so guests can help themselves.
Where there’s a bar cart, there’s a party
Want one less thing to attend to on party day? Choose a few small potted herbs, miniature topiaries or succulents to use as table decor instead of fresh flowers. All you need to do is plunk them on the table when the time comes. Just be sure to use pretty cachepots like the ones shown here, rather than regular flowerpots with drainage holes in the bottom – they will look neater on the table, and you won’t have to worry about leaks or spilled dirt.
It’s the little things that are often the most memorable. Dress up each place with a handwritten place card tucked into a pinecone, tied with twine to the stem of a pear or pomegranate, or fastened to a napkin.
Doesn’t it always seem that DIY projects take longer and are more complicated to do than you think they will be? Avoid last-minute crafting frustration by making sure any homemade projects are ones you can do ahead. If they flop, you’ll still have time to go the store-bought route.
Take the time now to find the little things that are never around when you need them: trivets, the ice bucket, tongs and so on. Count your plates and silverware to make sure you have enough, then store everything you need for your party in a nearby cupboard. When the time comes, everything you need will be at hand.