How to set the perfect table

Every single day, Rebecca puts together baby showers and weddings and family dinners that make Martha Stewart jealous. She crafts centerpieces and arranges tablescapes and plans menus, threading together details from the flowers to the favors to create an occasion for inspiration.

And the best part, you’re invited to every single shindig.

“I started my blog Tastefully Entertaining because I love entertaining,” said Rebecca. “Now I get to throw a virtual party every day, I get to throw parties I could never throw on my own because there are too many ideas and I’m not made of money, and I get to inspire other people to enjoy entertaining and think outside the box.”

Part of Rebecca’s quest to think outside the box comes from the fact that she has attention to details in her DNA. Her mom coached it out of her at an early age, showing her how to arrange food and pull together themes, and gave her an appreciation for the ambiance that artful entertaining can evoke.

“My birthday is just before Valentine’s Day, and every year my mom would figure out a way to make each party very unique,” said Rebecca. “She put an extraordinary amount of effort into planning games that went along with the theme and put a personal touch on every aspect.”

The concentration on details is something that can be overwhelming even for a pro like Rebecca. To help her get organized and hone in on her idea, she uses inspiration boards.

“The inspiration board is basically the beginning of an event for me,” she said. “Sometimes I start with colors, sometimes I start with a feeling like romance or whimsy, and sometimes I’ll start with a picture that strikes me. Then I turn it into an event.”

Inspiration boards help answer both the practical and the creative questions about an event. If an invitation inspires you, let that be the first piece on your inspiration board and then fill it in with these basics elements:

  • Invitation

It’s the first thing your guests see and should prime them for what to expect.

  • Table top

Think about the plates, the linens, the colors, the shapes. What could you use as a centerpiece that could bring in elements of your theme or your colors? How should you arrange each place setting? What should you offer as a favor? Are there any unexpected candles you could pull in instead of the typical tapers? The table top is basically the stage for your event, so concentrating on those details is key to creating a cohesive event.

  • Menu

What foods will evoke the ambiance of your event? Having a bon voyage party? Think about seafood. Plan a menu that echoes the design details you’ve decided on.

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Practial Ideas and Inspiration
Visit Rebecca’s website for recommending recipes, cocktails and reasons to get together

Hostess with the mostess
More design driven entertaining ideas!

evite!
Evite guides party hosts through every step of the event planning process – from deciding on the party specifica and inviting guests to preparing the party to finalizing the menu and sending eCard thank-you notes after the event.

Tips for hosting a huge party

Surprise! That intimate gathering you were planning for your closest friends and family? Yeah, it’s doubled in size!

If you’re like most people, the unexpected swell in guests could cause the event you’re planning to collapse altogether. But if you’re like Judy, author of No Fear Entertaining, the fact that your Labor Day party or Christmas dinner went from 25 to 50 invitees is just another opportunity to wow the masses.

“We didn’t want to eliminate people, so we worked at getting it down to a science,” said Judy. “We know what recipes work, we know what people like, we know how to put out the food and when… The biggest party we ever had is one of the best we’ve ever had.”

For Judy, a successful event really stems from planning. Whenever she and her family decide to host a get together, she immediately starts making lists.

  • The Guest List

Who is invited? Who will they be bringing? How many children do they have? Any special dietary constraints? If you don’t know who and how many you’re entertaining, you can’t plan any other aspect of the party.

  • The Menu

Once you know how many people you need to feed, you have to figure out what to feed them. Think about foods that have staying power or that are easy to make in advance and reheat.

f something is a proven crowd pleaser, definitely add it to the list. Judy’s marinated shrimp is a fixture at most parties because it’s such a big hit (and she can make it the day before). On the other hand, if you want to serve something you’ve never made before, Judy recommends doing a run-through in advance since you won’t want a day-of disaster on your hands.

Collect your recipes and build a menu, and you’ll already feel a more solid grasp on the task at hand.

  • The Shopping List

Jot down all the ingredients and amounts your menu calls for, and then start going through your pantry. Scratch off the things you already have and you’ll be left with a perfect shopping list.

  • The Timing Plan

Go over your menu and prioritize when you’re going to make each dish. If it’s possible, make some dishes ahead of time and freeze or refrigerate them. Consider your oven and stovetop space and see if you could use the grill or a smoker to do some of the work.

  • The Serving Plan

Find a serving style that will suit your space. If there’s no way for you to seat 50 people, then don’t even try to do a seated dinner. Create a buffet line, or serve some food inside and some food outside. Bring out foods at different times and pass plates around.

  • The Seating Arrangements

Experience has taught Judy that people will sit anywhere. They’ll share seats, they’ll stand and eat, or, as has happened at her parties before, they’ll all cop a squat on the floor and eat off a shared plate.

“Don’t stress about the seating,” said Judy. “If they’re truly your friends, they won’t care.”

Keep it as simple as possible is Judy’s best advice for entertaining the masses. And if tackling it on your own seems too daunting, she recommends bringing back the potluck.

In these tough economic times, throwing a big bash can take a serious toll on your funds, but rather than give up your special get togethers, make them a group effort.

“Parties can be very expensive, especially if there are a lot of people,” said Judy. “We have 12 families we’re very close with, and I noticed we were growing apart. Rather than throw the party ourselves, we brought everyone in on it together and started doing monthly potlucks.”

Judy and her friends use free online invitations like Evite.com and Pingg.com to coordinate the menu and who’s bringing what. Each family takes turns hosting, and whoever is hosting gets to pick the theme. You can theme it based on food style – Italian, Mexican, Asian – or based on something more personal, like Family Favorites. The host provides the main course, and everyone else signs up for a side dish or dessert.

“It is so much fun,” said Judy. “I hosted one on a Friday night and everyone was out by 10, they took their dirty dishes home with them, and I was resting on the couch, all cleaned up, by 10:30.”

Judy entertains on the premise “the more, the merrier.” While it’s certainly not effortless to pull off a party fit for a kingdom, it can be easy with the right planning and preparation. And it can help you stay close to the people you love.

“It helps build a support system and it shows your children that community is everywhere,” said Judy. “We all have to eat anyway and it’s always nicer to share your food. I don’t think I’ve ever been unhappy sitting at somebody else’s table with them feeding me something that they’ve made. It’s not possible for you to be miserable when you’re sitting there with someone who’s taken the time to make food for you and share it with you. You put love into your food, and when you share it with people, your love goes with it.”

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Judy’s blog
Recipes, menus, helpful tips, advice and more!

Make ahead tips for dinner parties
For those of us to whom “multi-course” sounds like “destined for failure,” take heart.

10 tips for a perfect potluck
Reader’s Digest readers share their best tips.