Centerpieces & Meal Service
October 6, 2011
Oh we love our tablescapes during the holidays don’t we? I know I do. Most of the year, you’ll find a simple bowl of fruit and some fresh flowers on our dining room table but during the holidays, like many of you, I set it with a pretty centerpiece. Friends appreciate it, and an attractive centerpiece on a dining room table is a great way to creatively get into the spirit of the season.
Beckie from Washington sent me this email with a great question about what to do with decorative centerpieces when you’re serving guests a meal:
“Hey Kate. This is one of those questions that I think a lot of people (ok me) have always wondered how to do gracefully but seem too afraid to ask. Real life just doesn’t work the way you see it in a magazine, so here goes.
You go to all the trouble and creativity to set a beautiful table for a special occasion, you set up a nice well thought out centerpiece and you bring out your best dishes and set up the place settings and your nice stemware and everything looks perfect . . . You’ve cooked your meal and now everyone is sitting at the table ready and waiting with baited breath, but wait… there is nowhere to put the food as you have filled your table with beautiful things. How do you deal with that?
Do you set up a buffet? Remove the centerpiece? Fill each plate and serve each person like a waiter? Am I the only one who doesn’t know how to do this right? Awaiting you answer for the holiday season. ~ Beckie”
Hey Beckie, great question! I don’t believe there is any one way to “do it right”. There are several ways to work around your table decorations during a meal, it just depends on your preferred method of serving guests.
When it comes to how to serve your meal and where to put the food, you have a few options. You can clear your centerpiece and make room for the food on the table, family style. You can set up a location for the food elsewhere such as a sideboard, and serve buffet style. Or you can choose the formality of serving your guests on a plate one by one.
Personally, I believe in keeping holiday entertaining with a meal as simple and casual as possible. I find that’s far more welcoming approach than elaborate rituals, but that’s me. What to do with a seasonal centerpiece doesn’t have to be complicated at all with some simple planning ahead. As long as you decide how you’re going to serve the food in advance, the style of your table decor can follow your lead.
Here are a few tips for planning your centerpiece around the meal:
1. Keep it Simple and Low. The easiest way to set a seasonal table for a meal is to keep your décor simple and your arrangements low. In fall, scatter some seasonal pumpkins or gourds, a few votive candles or small hurricanes, and/or some petite floral arrangements in between. These smaller items can be moved to the side to make room for plates or platters on the table when the meal is served.
2. Make A (Moveable) Statement. If you’re in the mood to make a statement with your centerpiece, choose something large scale, or layer a collection of seasonal items.
However, if you’re planning on using your table for placement of food, it’s essential that your statement centerpiece be easily movable to make room for platters, and also to allow for conversation among guests.
When guests sit down to eat, keep in mind their line of sight across the table. Any centerpiece that fills the air space between 8” and 24” above the table impedes your guests ability to see and speak to one another. These vases and branches below make a stunning centerpiece, but they will get in the way of comfortable conversation, so in my house, they’d be moved off the table during the meal.
A single tree branch like this one is less likely to interfere with placement of plates and guests ability to talk to one another, so it is perfectly fine left on the table.
3. Strategize with a Sideboard. Whether your dining space is formal or casual, having a sideboard or buffet makes food service much easier. Platters and warming trays can keep the meal close by and allow more room for decorative displays to remain on a table.
Don’t have a sideboard? Use your kitchen counters or island as a buffet for your meal instead. Even a folding table covered in a tablecloth acts as a temporary buffet when entertaining guests.
4. Fahgetaboutit. Preparing a meal for guests can bring its own anxiety, so who says you have to fuss about a table centerpiece at all? Consider skipping the table entirely and choose a different location for your seasonal show.
Layer your holiday decor in other areas of your home, whether on your mantel or on a side table, and don’t worry about additional accessorizing on the table. Choose instead some nice dishes and cloth napkins and a few candles and call it a day.
The most important thing when serving guests a meal is the company shared. Beautiful table décor is a wonderful way to celebrate the season, but it should take a back seat to the food that is prepared and the warmth of the friends and family around the table.
I hope this answers your question Beckie! What about all of you? How do you decorate your table for the holidays? Do you prefer large scale centerpieces or simple smaller seasonal touches? What’s your best tip for transitioning table decor when the meal is served?