Five simple ideas for staging a dinner party table

Published Sept. 19, 2017

It's fun to get creative when throwing a dinner party, but ideas aren't always easy to come by, especially if you're not a practiced host. The most experienced dinner party throwers generally have a few tricks up their sleeves, like using the same species of flower in their arrangements, and aren't afraid to get ambitious — I've seen someone build a buffet inside a canoe. You don't have to go that far to make your dinner party stand out, especially if you're feeling intimidated by all the cooking you have to do. Here are five simple ideas for staging a dinner party table that will make you look like you've done it a thousand times — and put a thousand times the effort into it.

Use fresh herbs as your centerpieces.

Candles and flowers make for pretty centerpieces, but unfortunately you can't eat them. Make your centerpiece complement the food you're serving, and vice versa, by using fresh herbs in your tablescape. Using rosemary in one of your dishes? Tie any extra fresh sprigs together with twine or pretty ribbon and place at each place setting for an organic look. You can do this with other herbs too, like sage, thyme, mint or oregano.

Try a butcher paper tablecloth.

Butcher paper? Say what? You can generally find it, or any thick brown paper, at a craft store. Covering your table in butcher paper leaves room for getting clever with your tablescape. You can ditch serving dishes altogether and place certain foods directly on the paper, turning your dining room table into a large charcuterie board. Or, if you're preparing a meal that needs to be served in dishes, you can label each dish by writing on the butcher paper. Leave markers for your guests to write messages too, and keep any clean paper afterward for a fun memento.

Switch up your setting.

Try holding your dinner party somewhere besides the kitchen table for something more exciting. If the weather is nice and the mosquitoes are at bay, head outside. Set a folding table to its lowest setting, close to the ground, and cover the table with a pretty cloth. Spread out large pillows, blankets and sheets in the backyard for a bohemian picnic-style party. Add string lights for extra ambience.

Color-coordinate with discretion.

I've been to some dinner parties that were so tastefully done they looked like they had come straight out of a magazine — pops of millennial pink or burnt auburn set the stage for a lovely meal that was easy to enjoy. I've also been to dinner parties where the color coordination was so over-the-top it was almost painful to look at, much less enjoy. Pick one or two colors with which to coordinate, leave everything else in a neutral tone and try to avoid clashing. Look at a color wheel if you have to. Seriously. If you're not sure where to start, look at the food you're going to be serving — the red hue of mango skin or the deep blue of blueberries — and try to draw colors from there.

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Get creative with your serving dishes.

Change up your serving dishes and leave your special trays in the china cabinet. Try using a cutting board or a basket for something rustic, or a flower vase or candle holder for something more ornate. Flip a wine glass over on your table, placing some decorative item like a flower beneath the glass and a candle on the base. I love using metal milk pails, which you can get at any craft store, for chips or salad, and one of my favorite party tricks is using teacups as bowls.