I’m all about simplifying the holidays this year, and today I’ve got a double dose of holiday hacks to make your Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other holiday dinner warm, welcoming, and less hassle for the host!
My mom loves to entertain guests and over the years she has taught me everything I know about entertaining as an art form and the gift of hospitality. Today I’d like to pass on some of her wisdom, mostly so I don’t forget to teach my own children someday.
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How to Set a Simple Elegant Table
Before I get into the larger subject of entertaining, let’s start with a smaller piece of the pie (couldn’t resist that pun as we approach Thanksgiving) – setting a beautiful table.
Table setting has been elevated to an art form, but at its heart it should be functional and welcoming. It comes down to these three things:
- You’ll need things to eat with: plates, napkins, utensils.
- You’ll need things to drink out of.
- And you’ll need a few pretty things to make it feel special.
Keep it Down
Keep your decorations low so people can talk to each other over them. Towering centerpieces may look fancy from afar, but they make conversation awkward.
I like to use a collection of items floating on a table runner. (I don’t own a table cloth, mostly because I avoid doing more laundry than absolutely necessary. Ditto for placemats.)
If you collect several items of various shapes and sizes and arrange them artfully down the center of the table it creates the visual impact of a centerpiece without the vertical clutter.
Use what you have.
There’s no need to go out and buy tons of decorative items each time you host a dinner party. (Unless you’re my mother, in which case it’s less of a need and more of a compulsion. I’d recommend therapy, but it would cut into her dishware budget.)
Raid your kitchen cabinets and find glass jars you could put some flowers into, or condiment dishes you could turn into candle holders.
Or if you’re a craft supply hoarder like me, you can dig into your craft stash for fun items to scatter around the table, like these acorns and cotton bolls.
I love these little measuring cups from Hobby Lobby. They’re super cute, and I can use them for serving sauces and condiments.
Start with a color palette.
Choose a simple color palette, then mix and match. Once you’ve chosen your colors, you can get away with using just about anything in those colors. Here I’ve chosen whites, grays and browns, with a touch of bronze and silver accents.
I only had 4 of the mudcloth napkins (reference my dislike of laundry mentioned above), but I had a couple of gray napkins, so I used both. Can you tell in the picture? And if you can, does it matter?
With a cohesive color palette you can get away with mixing because everything already matches!
Keep it simple from the start.
I’m a huge fan of white dishes. I have probably 3 or 4 sets of plates in my kitchen, not one of which survives as a complete set. (Hello to teaching kids responsibility by washing dishes!)
When all your dishes are the same color (or coordinated colors), you can mix them up and not worry about them matching. That saves a lot of time as a hostess, and saves my sanity as a designer!
Remove the clutter.
Don’t keep anything on the table that isn’t completely necessary. (I consider pretty things used for the centerpiece to be necessary.)
Here’s my biggest pet peeve in table setting, and I apologize in advance if you do this: No one needs more utensils than a fork, knife and spoon.
Have you ever sat down to dinner at a fancy table, only to be faced with an array of different sized forks? (I know there’s a system, but heck if I know what it is. Sorry, Mom!) And everyone’s looking around at everyone else, waiting to see who is the civilized person who knows what to do in this social quandary? Spoiler alert – it won’t be me!
Multiple forks and spoons only intimidate guests and make them question if they’re “doing it right.” If you have multiple courses, such as a separate salad or dessert, include those utensils with that course, not on the table.
In this table setting, I’ve also removed the drinking glasses. That’s because we usually set up a drink station in the kitchen, close to the ice maker. It’s so much easier to have everyone make their drinks before dinner and bring them to the table.
Simple Elegant Table Setting Resources
As I mentioned, you can find easy table setting materials pretty much anywhere in your house already, but if you’re interested in the ones I’ve used, here is where to find them:
- Table Scatter Bronze Acorns and Cotton Blooms
- White Dinner Plates
- Napkins – These mudcloth-inspired napkins are similar to the ones I bought but have since been discontinued at World Market
- Nesting Ceramic Measuring Cups
- Creamer and Sugar Crocks – Mine were bought long ago at the Target Dollar Spot, but I found this similar stoneware set
- I have no idea where mine came from, but I really like this table runner for this style table setting.
Hosting Hacks for Holiday Gatherings
Now that we’ve talked about the pretty stuff, I’ll leave you with this list of my thoughts on how to make hosting easier. I hope it’s helpful to you!
- Set your table early. The day of the party will be all about food prep, so set the table a day or two early. That way you can make sure all the necessary dishware and silverware are clean and ready to go.
- Have activities for the kids. If kids are invited (or even if they're not!) collect a few games or activities. Or ask one of the families attending to bring them. Coloring books and board games are a great way to keep the littles busy, at least for a few minutes of adult conversation.
- Don't reinvent the wheel in the kitchen. Unless you're a person who loves to cook and share your culinary creations, consider using some ready made dishes. For instance, my family love crescent rolls, which means we get fresh bread right out of the oven without me having to spend much time making it. Also, I would contend that there is no way to improve on Ghirardelli brownies from their mix, so do yourself a favor and don't even try. Your guests will thank you.
- Don't do it all yourself. Speaking of side dishes, there's nothing wrong with planning a dinner party as a potluck. Especially on larger occasions with family, like Thanksgiving, you can make your life a lot easier and more fun by assigning guests a dish to bring.
- Delegate. Before guests arrive, take a minute to think about what tasks you might be able to delegate when someone asks, "How can I help?" Personally, I tend to get flustered when a guest asks me this because I don't have a plan in place. But people love to feel helpful so if you can have an idea about how to delegate filling glasses with ice, or help with last minute preparations, it will make everyone feel good.
- Enjoy yourself and everyone else will too. Have you ever had that uncomfortable experience where the host of your party is all frustrated because things aren't going as planned? AW-kward! An upset host puts a damper on the whole occasion. Once you've done all you can to prepare for your party, the only thing left to do is enjoy it so everyone else can too!
The heart of hospitality is caring about people. Don't get so caught up in the details of having a perfect party that you forget to live in the moment and celebrate your people!
Hospitality takes practice, so get out there and plan a party! And don’t forget to invite me. I’ll bring the brownies!