Creating the menu is another issue altogether. It is all about pleasing your guests, maybe trying to come up with a theme or pick a country, you know Italian, Mexican, etc... Try to make sure the courses compliment each other or don't overlap, for instance I wouldn't do a corn chowder and then a corn side dish to the main dish, unless of course corn is your theme, then be my guest. Finally, if the meal was heavy, consider a lighter dessert and visa versa.
Ok on to the table, I like to use the season as my guide, but there are other items I might consider as well. Is it casual or formal? Do you want to match the theme? Will it be a buffet or will food be on the table? I am in fall mode, trying to will it to come so my table is decorated accordingly. I tend to really dress my table, I like for my guests to come in and see the decoration. By the time they sit to eat, the extra decorations are gone from each setting. I also like to designate seating when I have a large party. It helps to alleviate any awkwardness about who to choose to sit by and lastly I always have the menu posted, either at each individual place setting or one for the table. I love it! I think guests are impressed at the personal touch and I usually find people like to know if they should save room for something. Lastly, I do like to make sure the guests leave with something to remember their experience. Sometimes it is simply a special chocolate in a box, bottle of wine or a little goodie bag of assortments. Other times we try to match the gift to the theme, a lemon theme may have a small bottle of homemade lemoncello or lemon square. A personal get together may have a group photo in a cute frame or recipe from the meal on a decorative card.
Let me close by giving a bullet list of tips and ideas-
- A cool idea for a water glass, the day before, slice citrus fruit very thin and freeze on a sheet tray. Use as ice cubes for the water glasses.
- Try to match a glass of wine or cocktail to compliment each course. There are many sites to get info from, but your local wine shop will be helpful too. This can really add to the experience.
- Always make sure you have a non alcoholic choice for drinks.
- Pick the plates you will use for each course ahead of time. If it is salad plates,chill them, and be ready to get the hot plates warm ahead of time.
- Low volume background music or entertainment is very nice especially if there is a lull in the conversation, it isn't quite as quiet.
- This sounds silly, but I am a total freak about this one. Check your bathroom, make sure there is plenty of tp, tissue, soap and the trash is not full. This seems so obvious but it is often overlooked
- If butter is being used at all for bread, make sure it is room temperature.
- Remember, you do eat with your eyes first so try to make the plate look as appetizing as possible.
- As far as cooking goes, I like to do as much ahead of time as possible. I chop veggies, make vinaigrettes, anything that can be done ahead of time. A salad can be made by putting the dressing in the bottom of the serving bowl, then criss cross the salad tongs, then add the lettuce. The tongs keep the lettuce from touching the dressing and not getting soggy. You can toss right at the last minute. I purchased small condiment bowls awhile back so I can use that to put my chopped veggies, garlic, whatever it is in there for a do ahead task.
Ok so yes, I am a freak! I love to entertain! I love to find interesting ways to do things. (I use little rock salt chunks with a scraper at the table instead of a shaker.) I love to cook and fortunately I think I do a pretty good job of it. Although I have my moments. A couple of years ago, I was entertaining some very important clients/friends and my in-laws. They were wandering around the outside showing our guests the outdoors. My son was inside, helping me put together my mini blt appetizers. I had just lit the candles on the table and sent my son to fill the water glasses when all of the sudden he ran out of the house screaming for dad, saying there is a fire. Why he didn't stop and say this to me is still beyond me. I ran to the table to find the whole center of my 150" table on fire with flames shooting up a couple of feet. My husband ran in the house, grabbed the fire extiguisher and was ready to blast my BEAUTIFUL TABLE! I screamed NOOOO and threw water on it and out it went. We removed the charred centerpieces and my husband, wonderful guy that he is, went outside and clipped some pretty branches to cover it all up. Our guests were so kind and understanding and we ended up with a beautiful dinner. So all this in mind this is my last suggestion. Photograph your table before your guests come.It is wonderful to remember each table you have done, that way you don't copy (unless you want to) and you see flaws that should be fixed. Upon looking over my pictures of that table THE NEXT DAY, I noticed that some of the folliage I had on my table was right over some of my votives, hence fire! Moral- look at the picture before the party to spot your flaws before they happen! I hope my tips help you have a great entertainment experience!