There is something wonderful about sitting down at a beautiful dinner table. Regardless of how the food still due to arrive might turn out, the effort the host has made to make your experience a pleasurable one registers.
In the words of Santa Barbara event planner Merryl Brown, “There is nothing as enticing as dining at a gorgeously dressed table topped with fine china, silverware, flowers, lovely linens and lots of candlelight. From the moment your guests arrive, your décor elements set the evening’s tone, allowing them to feel the embrace of your hospitality.”
The dinner table is a microcosm of your home. It is a place where you want your guests to feel comfortable and eager to return. Unlike the home, however, the dinner table is an easy and relatively inexpensive place to experiment with new décor ideas.
Setting a great table takes a bit of effort, true, but it is an effort that pays off. Most important, it creates an atmosphere that immediately lets your guests know they are welcome in your home.
There are a few simple rules, such as the rule that dinner guests should be able to see one another’s faces across the table and therefore centerpieces or arrangements should be below eye level, and the rule that people are accustomed to their forks on the left and their knives on the right. (The Huffington Post has a helpful diagram of both an informal and a formal table setting with easy to follow, user-friendly diagrams to help with any confusion about what side the butter plate goes on.)
Best of all, though, for the creatively inclined, the dinner table is both an opportunity to express appreciation for friends and a way to try something new.
Brown, whose company, Merryl Brown Events, is the wizard behind many of the Central Coast’s most memorable nonprofit and private events, understands what matters most when entertaining.
While she is quick to point out the importance of the table itself, she also emphasizes several things that might not occur to someone who has not thrown as many parties as she has.
For Noozhawk, Merryl shared some of her favorite local resources as well as advice to help make even the smallest dinner party a success.
» “The key to a great party is organization ...,” she said. “There are always many moving parts (when entertaining) and the best way to avoid problems is to solve them by creating a timeline and a to do list well in advance.”
» “There is nothing more satisfying than great food and wine with friends,” she said. “If you are not sure what to serve, there are many online resources that are filled with great recipes and ideas for menus and wine pairing, such as www.eat-drink-garden.com. Be sure to check with guests in advance so that you are aware of food allergies or preferences.”
» “Décor sets the stage for the evening,” Brown advised. She encourages the host or hostess to weave the mood and the theme of the party into the table décor, and to think of things such as lighting, flowers and table linens. She also encourages hosts not to feel limited necessarily by the items they already have. Rental companies exist to allow even the small dinner party host the opportunity to try something new. Two of Brown’s favorite local rental companies are La Tavola Fine Linen Rental and Classic Party Rentals.
» “Music sets the tone and enhances the mood,” she added. “Great music truly makes a party more festive and sets the mood for the whole evening. Music should play continuously, turned off only if a toast or speech is being made. Always be sure that it is not too loud for comfortable conversation.”
» “HAVE FUN!” Brown exclaimed. “Nothing makes guests more uncomfortable than a stressed-out host. Relax and enjoy yourself. If you are having fun at your dinner party, your guests will, too.”
By getting a lot of the work done before the dinner begins, being organized, thinking about a few key details, and setting a table that is uniquely yours and appropriate to the meal you want to host, you are showing your guests that you are already having fun. And much of the work you have to do as host will be done before the doorbell rings, freeing you to actually enjoy your own party.