Setting the Table & Dimming the Lights

How to host gatherings that encourage good conversation and being present in the moment, connecting guests with nature through food

Cocktail Party/Dinner Party/Special Event

It’s easier and more fun than you think!

Things to consider:

  • Number of guests
  • Reason for gathering
  • Budget

These will determine the appropriate:

  • Location
  • Theme
  • Setting
  • Decor
  • Ambiance
  • Lighting
  • Style-
    • More social or sit down location- One of the ways to kill a party buzz is trying to force guests who are having a social/mingling experience “sit down.”  Think it through: is it a social crowd?  Let them mingle with drinks and small plates rather than planning a sit down dinner
  • Table settings- for a seated dinner or high tops for a cocktail hour
  • Menu- a full meal or apps and bites; organic is best, if you can shop at your local farmers market you will be serving your guests the freshest seasonal ingredients and most likely will find produce so beautiful you can decorate your table with it!  Organic seasonal ingredients usually spark conversation with your guests and always taste better than conventional items that may have been picked weeks before and shipped to your grocery store from far away
  • Logistics- parking- street or valet; coat check- self or attended; name cards for seat assignments or open seating; name tags, audio/visual: PA system, projector; speakers for music or stage for live band; uniform for staff or all black attire or jeans w aprons, etc

Once you gather the facts and get to know your audience, as well as the expectations of your host, the fun part begins!

  1. Find your location
  2. Determine the appropriate tables and chairs for the space; high or low, long or wide, one table or many scattered, etc
  3. Create your menu concept- work with your chef or your recipe books and decide what’s the best fit for your event and your guests; is it more of a social gathering- finger foods and small plates are probably best.  Family style dinners tend to be more intimate than plated dinners- people pass platters around and help their neighbors get served.  People can take as much or as little food as liked or skip a dish all together and that’s usually the best for picky eaters.  Remember to be sensitive to dietary restrictions and always have plenty of vegetarian options on the menu (it’s healthier too!).  I always have vegan and gluten free options ready to go in the kitchen if they’re not already built into the menu, for ex, if it’s wheat, dairy and/or meat heavy
  4. Set the table.  I do this mentally first, sometime draw diagrams and always get started at least one week prior to the event (sometimes earlier depending on the volume of guests).  Have your materials for setting the table chosen, counted out and ready to go at least two days before the party so the day before can be spent setting the table and the day of reserved for flowers and decorations.  Giving yourself plenty of time to get ready will show in the final product and your guests will definitely notice the difference.  You will be relaxed and your party will look fantastic!  That’s proof that you have the event under control and you are ready for any surprises.  And trust me, there are always surprises!  Like too many guests and not enough chairs, or not enough guests and too many empty seats, or food is running late, or music is having a glitch, or the valet parkers didn’t show up, or the…you get the idea.

Setting the Table:

No matter what the occasion– pizza party, cocktail party, holiday party– here are the staples and the things to consider when making your choices:

  • Candles- always safer in glass
  • Flowers- I prefer rustic, natural and edible components for aroma as well as aesthetic
  • Flower vessels
  • Napkins- paper or cloth
  • Silverware- or goldware
  • Plates- for apps, salad, dinner; chargers or more casual
  • Glassware- must be clean and shiny; water, cocktail, wine
  • Objects- these are items that can add to your table’s appeal- wooden bowls, collectibles, etc
  • Serving platters- wooden, ceramic, melamine
  • Beverages- wine, sparkling, water, tisane, non-alcoholic cocktail, cocktails and mixers
  • Tablecloth or runner- wood au natural
  • Party favor/Gifts- the best are those that decorate the table setting that are meant for guests to take with them; handmade are more personal and people appreciate them more
  • Lighting
  • Music- live or not
  • Menu- always have something for guests to eat and drink upon arrival; apps, main, salad, dessert; family style, plated or buffet; meal or bites
  • Printed menu- execution, handwritten, illustrated, or professionally printed have very different affects
  • Decorations
  • Edibles
  • Serving ware- vintage or modern
  • Centerpiece- something natural is always best
  • Service- keep in mind the more guests you have the more service/help you will need; sit down dinner with plated courses or passed apps needs more service than family style dinner or buffet/stationary apps; and with the right amount of attention and execution, stationary apps can be just as beautiful as passed apps if you’re on a budget!

Some tenants to live by:

Interact with your guests– serve fun things like pizza that’s being made in front of guests, make cocktails right in front of guests, have someone using a hand crank slicer with prosciutto and passing it out

Make things– it’s more personal, fun, and your guests will appreciate it!

Use edibles– for as much of the table decorations and flower accompaniments as you can.  This will ensure that the items in arm’s reach of your guests hands, mouths and plates are safe to eat if ingested accidentally or on purpose.  Plus, the aroma of mint leaves mixed in with your roses will surely delight and surprise your guests.  You can use the mint in one of your dishes or desserts to enhance the affects of this nice gesture.

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