Hosting a get-together for your friends and family is fun. But the stress that comes with the task of hosting? Not so fun. From planning everything to cleaning up at the end, entertaining can be a hassle.
Which is why Table + Teaspoon, the first full “rent the table” service available nationwide, is such a genius concept. Liz Curtis first started the company in 2009 as a cooking blog. Studying for the bar exam, Curtis originally saw Table + Teaspoon as a creative outlet. That soon spiraled into a full-on catering, events, and interior design firm, eventually turning into what Curtis describes as the “Rent the Runway for table settings.”
“Inspiration hit me as I was picking up yet another order from an enormous party rental warehouse in South San Francisco when I asked myself, “In a city where you can order literally anything on-demand—flowers, dresses, meals, chefs, groceries, cocktails, sommeliers—why can’t you similarly order your tablescape?”
Here’s how it works: Customers head over to the Table + Teaspoon site, enter the date of their party, choose from six setting motifs (each designed by Curtis), and wait for the package to arrive. After your party, simply repackage everything and ship it off. The best part? You don’t even need to wash anything.
Other than that, Curtis says the easiest way to reduce stress surrounding a dinner party is to take a step back and focus on your guests. “Give guests the feeling that you care about them being in your home and that you’ve put a great deal of thought into their evening because this feeling is what they will remember,” she advises. “No matter what happens, don’t forget to laugh. There’s always pizza delivery and more wine!”
Looking for more ways to make your next get-together a breeze? We asked Curtis to share her expert entertaining tips to guide us through the process, step by step.
Step 1: The Theme
Employing a theme for your dinner party can be as straightforward as a color palette. You may want to up the ante with a more autumnal aesthetic, but make sure that you don’t go so overboard that guests feel crowded or your table looks forced. For example, just because it’s Thanksgiving doesn’t mean that you’re required to put pumpkins all over an orange tablecloth—an elegant mix of tans and browns with fresh greenery can be just as effective.
Challenge yourself to think outside the box, simplify your vision, and don’t forget to include things that you love on your table. Sliced agate, bronze stars, boxwood topiaries—whatever you decorate your home with can double as tablescape fodder. The best part of using this method is that your table reflects your personality, which your guests will instantly recognize.
Step 2: Light and Height
Guests eat with their eyes as much as their mouths, so give them something to consume visually by staggering the heights of objects on the table. Candles are the easiest way to vary height, because you can use both votives and taper candlesticks to create flickering light from a couple of inches to a couple of feet off the table. Rather than plain glass votives, use small vintage glasses or silver julep cups for tea lights.
Step 3: Florals
Keep in mind that you can still knock your table out of the park without complex flower arrangements, but if you are going to create your own masterpiece here are some basics. First, take the vase or bowl you plan to use and make a grid with scotch tape. For smaller vessels do an “X” with two pieces, and for larger ones make a hashtag (“#”) shape with four pieces; this allows you to place flowers evenly without using florist foam.
Second, create a base with leafy greens or branches so that you don’t have to use as many flowers. And third, a foolproof way to produce a beautiful bouquet is to use different shades of the same color for each element of the arrangement.
Step 4: Proper Setting
Though it seems a bit antiquated, correct tableware placement is actually useful for your guests given that the flatware goes in the order you use it, so might as well do it right, right? The salad fork goes on the far left of the plate, next to the larger dinner fork. The knife goes on the right of the plate, with the blade facing in toward the plate. The spoon goes to the right of the knife.
If you have a dessert spoon and fork, they go on top of the plate with the handle facing the direction they would go if brought down to the left and right of the plate (so fork handle on the left, spoon handle on the right). The water glass goes in the top-right corner, with the wine glass behind or beside it. If you use a standard napkin, it goes underneath the forks on the left, but if you take my advice and go oversize, I like to place the napkin folded in thirds underneath the plate for a bigger aesthetic impact.
Step 5: Paper Products
Menus and place cards are certainly not required, but they give you both the opportunity to control where guests sit, and add more texture and color to your table. Don’t feel confined to using paper for place cards—one of my favorite methods is writing directly on leaves, oranges, lemons, or pears with a permanent marker or gold leaf ink. Paper straws for water or champagne glasses are another way to add height and color to your table, and are available in every any shade you can imagine.
Step 6: The Menu
Comfort food is key. People crave dishes and flavors they are familiar with, so don’t overthink it by pulling out all the stops with a zillion new recipes. Typically, I add one new item to my menu and then use tried-and-true recipes I’m familiar with and know I won’t mess up.
Similarly, keep appetizers simple (think cheese and charcuterie) so that you can focus on more difficult tasks like plating the meal and not burning the house down. To make guests feel immediately at ease, prepare a signature cocktail to hand out upon arrival. This way, if you’re running late in the kitchen, your guests won’t notice.
Step 7: The Playlist
Setting the tone for the evening with music is just as important as your decor and menu. If you don’t already have a favorite go-to playlist, remember that classics are always in good taste—think Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Otis Redding. If you are feeling ambitious, make two playlists: One for daytime cooking that can play as guests arrive, and another for the rest of the evening.