Welcome to the 116th Tablescape Thursday!
Party Planning Week:
It’s Party Planning Week here at BNOTP. So far this week: Monday we talked about the many ways available for sending out your party invitations . Tuesday was all about preparing and readying our home for the big day. And on Wednesday, I shared a fun gift-exchange game guests always love. Today is all about centerpieces and how to arrange the food and desserts.
Often I get emails from folks who are request assistance with planning an event or a party. Another sweet reader recently asked for advice on how to set up a buffet. For this Tablescape Thursday, I’ll take you through the way I set up my dining room when I’m having a party. I’ll also share how I serve desserts and beverages. Because your dining room and kitchen layout is most likely not the same as mine, you will probably need to do some things a little differently. As I mentioned in the other party posts, just take from these posts what you can use and discard the rest.
Unfortunately, though I’ve had quite a few parties over the years, I’ve never taken pics of the dining room table with the food in place. But I do have some pics to share…and I’ll describe the rest for you in hopes this will help when you plan your next party.
When I have a Christmas party and invite 20+ folks, I don’t have a sit down “dinner” affair. Instead, it’s always a buffet and I serve “finger foods” along with desserts and beverages. This also helps with Top Reason #3…not having anywhere to sit. With a buffet type party, mostly folks stand. I always end up moving most of the dining room chairs to the living room and family room. So if folks do want to sit…there is usually plenty of seating in those rooms, as well as in the kitchen. So, there’s no issue of having to worry about actually seating 20 guests for dinner.
Over the years, I usually put the food in my dining room and use the breakfast room table for other things. Because there is so much food, it always requires that I add the center leaf to the table. I prefer to use a tablecloth for these occasions, too…just makes it feel that much more special.
A few years ago, I went on an historic home tour and saw a table set with Lenox, Winter Greetings, china…it was love at first sight. I was thrilled to find they make an “accent plate” for this pattern. It is the perfect size for a party buffet because it’s bigger than a salad plate, yet smaller than a dinner plate. It’s probably pretty close to a luncheon size plate.
Quite a while back, I created a post about this china and the woman who designed it, Catherine McClung. She is an amazing artist and was featured on HGTV in a special called, Modern Masters: White House Artisans. In that post, I showed all the accent plates in more detail. You’ll find that post, HERE if you’d like to learn more about this china. Then you can become addicted to Lenox, Winter Greetings, too. Ha!
I usually place the plates at one end of the table. You will want to locate your plates at an end where once folks move around the table, they will finish at a point where they will be able to move from the table to where the drinks are located without bumping into folks who are waiting. That location will be a little different in each person’s dining room…so just think that process through and you’ll know where to start your buffet line.
In the past when I hosted a party, since I was working full-time I spent my time in the evenings cleaning and decorating for the party. Unfortunately, that never left me much time for cooking. For parties I usually make 3-4 dishes myself, along with and 2-3 desserts. Then, I supplement with party platters from Publix, a local supermarket. I usually pick up a few things from Costco, too. I have a very bad habit of buying and making way too much food for parties. So, I always have lots left over. I will tell you how I overcame that problem a bit later…it will be in our last post.
I place the platters all around the table, along with the dishes I have prepared on serving pieces or on the dinner plates that match my china. Dinner plates make great serving pieces when they aren’t needed for the actual meal.
It’s best to have some logical order to your table regarding where you place the foods you are serving. I find it works well to start with the plates, next up the meats and bread/biscuits if folks or making little ham/turkey sandwiches, along with mayo/mustard/relish, etc… Then follow-up with the other finger foods. It’s nice to end with the napkins…and silverware, if it’s needed. You could put the drinks at the end, too, but I don’t really like doing it that way. I have found it creates way too much congestion and slows the whole line down. I prefer to put my drinks somewhere else all together…more on that in a bit.
Tip: To make your table look more interesting, it’s great if you mix in some taller serving pieces so everything doesn’t end up on one level.
Cakes stands like these would be perfect for displaying finger foods/desserts for a party.
One year, I came across these napkins on sale at Kohl’s and bought a bunch to use for parties. I usually group them in a big silver bowl so folks can just grab one as they go by.
About a year ago I found these crystal flatware holders online at Neiman Marcus…they were on sale for $25 for all three…not a bad deal. I looked last night to get the link and didn’t see them on NM this year. You can pretty much find them anytime on eBay by searching for “crystal flatware caddy” or “cystal flatware.”
I don’t plan to use the caddies on the main table because I always serve appetizers/finger foods for my parties. But I will use them on the buffet where I serve the desserts. One will be used for the spoons at my “coffee station.”
My kitchen is quite small and there’s not a lot of counter space. I normally set up a little coffee area on my desk. I don’t drink coffee so the first year I had a party, I was not a very good hostess. When folks started asking for coffee to go with their dessert, I didn’t have any. The next year I thought to have coffee on hand, but it wasn’t Decaf and that’s what everyone wanted. They also asked for artificial sweetener, which I don’t use. Next year I was ready! Now, I always have decaf coffee for evening parties and I always put out several types of artificial sweeteners, in addition to good ole sugar.
I recreated this for you but it’s missing a few things. I normally have a candle burning and some type of greenery with berries to dress up this area but I think you get the idea. This is a great place to use one of the flatware caddies to hold the spoons.
This style caddy will hold 24-30 spoons with ease if you just face them in opposite directions.
Neiman Marcus carries these linen cocktail napkins and periodically they will put them on sale and offer free monogramming and shipping. Watch for their sales…you can get some good deals.
On to the good stuff…the Desserts!
If you want to Wow your guests with a dessert that looks fancy but is actually super easy to make, serve a trifle. You’ll find several yummy trifle recipes under the category “Good Eats” at the top of BNOTP. The buffet seems to work well for serving the desserts. I usually have a cake of some type, a trifle and maybe one other dessert. Salad plates are great to use for dessert plates. I like to stack them at either end of the buffet. Remember the other two flatware caddies, this is where they’ll come in handy. In the past I just placed the forks on the buffet, (see pic below) which was fine…but I think the caddies will be a lot nicer and take up less space.
In the past, I’ve made a coconut cake for dessert. The one above is one brought by a neighbor for a previous cookie party…love how festive it looked! The one below is one I made from an old family recipe. You’ll find the recipe here: Coconut Cake Recipe.
I love this champagne punch and it is always a huge hit. The first year I served it, I also had wine on hand. At the end of the night, not a single bottle of wine had ever been opened. Everyone was enjoying the champagne punch too much to drink any wine. I usually make 4 batches for 20-25 people and it’s always all gone by the end of the party. You’ll find the recipe under the category “Good Eats” at the top of BNOTP.
In the past, I served the punch from a pitcher instead of a punch bowl. It was tricky ladling the punch into the tiny opening of the champagne glass. But I finally found a better solution. Do you see the beverage server on the left of the sideboard?
Last year I found this one in an antique shop. I’d been drooling over them on NM for some time so I was thrilled to find one at about a third the price. I think it will be perfect for serving this champagne punch and guest will easily be able to help themselves to more, at least that’s the plan.
Recently, while out antiquing, I came across this little silverplate wine server for only $15. I couldn’t resist it and I think it will be perfect for a future dinner party.
Normally, I serve the other beverages (like tea, water, soda) from the breakfast table, but…
When I have a cookie party…this is where the cookies everyone brings usually end up.
Last time, the table on the porch came in handy, too. If you’re planning a cookie party, you may want to flip-flop things and place the cookies on the dining room table and the food on the breakfast table…or maybe on a kitchen island if you have one.
Do you need fancy china for a party…heck, no. But it sure is fun to put on our party clothes once in a while and play grown up. Before I’d collected the things I use, it was paper plates and plastic cups and that worked just fine. But I do love using real china and for a party of 20-25, it’s doable. If it were a lot larger, I might reconsider.
I have two favorite fresh-greenery centerpieces I often use on my tables for a holiday party. The breakfast table normally gets an arrangement of magnolia branches tucked down inside a tall vase filled with water and real lemons.
I place two (real) pineapple candle holders on either side. You can find the forms to make these trees for sale at the Williamsburg Marketplacewebsite. I’ll be doing a tutorial on how to make one very soon. It isn’t hard but I’ll share some tips that make it go a lot smoother. The apple tree can be made 2-3 days in advance of a party. I bought the thingies I used to make the pineapple candle holders on a home tour years ago.
Well, that’s about it! Hope this proves helpful when you have your next party!
Looking forward to viewing your beautiful tablescapes!
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