artful celebration

Table talk: Event planning experts advise how to create a holiday dinner party with a wow-factor

Table talk: Event planning experts advise how to create a holiday dinner party with a wow-factor

Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_tiffany boxes
Tiffany boxes used as decorations. Photo by George TK
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_driftwood
Driftwood tablescape. Photo by Jared Tennant
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_green glasses
Green glasses. Photo by Jared Tennant
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_guests
Guests enjoy the atmosphere. Photo by Brooke Greer
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_plates
Variety of plates. Photo by Brooke Greer
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_single flower
Single flower arrangements. Photo by Brooke Greer
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_wine bottles
Wine glasses and votive candles used as table decorations. Photo by Brooke Greer
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_tiffany boxes
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_driftwood
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_green glasses
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_guests
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_plates
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_single flower
Austin Photo Set: News_Patricia_tabletop decorations_nov 2012_wine bottles

There’s something about throwing a dinner party that feels so grown-up. Perhaps you have fond childhood memories of watching your parents socialize with friends from your perch atop the staircase. Or maybe a past holiday feast with extended family comes to mind. 

A successful gathering, however, isn’t all about the good times; it requires careful preparation. Not only must you determine the date, craft the guest list and create the menu, but you must also shop for provisions, cook the meal and play the gracious host. And at some point in the middle of the chaos, the table needs to be set.

Presentation does matter. Shawn Cirkiel, executive chef of the Backspace, prefers simplicity. “Highlight one or two things on your table, whether that’s a vintage piece filled with squash, or a nice flower arrangement,” he explains. “Let those pieces shine, and then let the negative space of the table and the food lead the way.”

Indeed a straight table setting will work, but sometimes you crave that wow factor. We brought in the experts, three locals who make it their business to know exactly how to dress a table, and asked them to share their ideas for the perfect setting. Bon appétit.

Suzanne Court, Owner, Suzanne Court Catering & Events

Incorporate nature

Black- and pewter-painted driftwood as the centerpiece exudes an organic flow. For a modern twist, use mirrored boxes with lava rocks to hold the driftwood and add Lucite chairs for seating. In the fall, I like to use leaves—maple and magnolia—spray-painted in metallics such as bronze, gold, and nickel. Paint pomegranates and pears and leave nuts natural. Mix in blooming cotton branches and white earthenware.

Use fresh seasonal produce

In place of traditional floral, use produce from your local grocer. Artichokes, pomegranates, and oranges are beautiful when used in arrangements.

Make it simple

Arrange monochromatic flowers in mint julep cups of varying heights and sizes. Use a white tablecloth to create a simple yet elegant display.

Brooke Greer, Event Planner, Olive and June

Use real dishes, silverware, and china

A table dressed with washable linens, plates you’d use at your mother’s, heavy-handled silverware, and real wine glasses sets the tone of the party. I prefer to mix and match everything—dishes (varying shapes and colors), linens (different colors), and wine glasses (purchased at wineries).

Put your table in the right spot

Put your dinner table in the back yard—near a lovely tree or by your fire pit. I prefer a square or round table versus a long one, which makes it difficult for guests to communicate with everyone. Make it feel like an intimate dinner.

Add a special touch

Themed events can seem passé, but if done well, they provide your guests with a guide. Think Thanksgiving potluck, a summer bounty from the garden, a fur and feathers party. Not only does a theme tie-in with the food but also with the table.

Allison Gueli, Event Planner, Parkside

Use paper products

Throw down some newspaper or craft paper and use chalk to write the menu on the middle of the table and guest names at their seats. It is unexpected and stress free.

Add something meaningful

Something special elevates a simple table. I recently went to Paris and brought home some choice wine from my travels. My friends cooked a French-inspired dinner, and we drank the wine from my trip, which was displayed on the table.

Garnish the table with items from the menu

For me, so much about the dinner party is the food. If we’re doing a cranberry-glazed ham, spread some cranberries around. If we’re serving rosemary-roasted chicken, place fresh rosemary in a vase.