Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to Cook & Serve Elegantly & Stress Free

This is a post that I put together two years ago, but have been asked to repeat.  It's a step by step of how to create an inexpensive, elegant tablescape, cook the meal and serve it with style and without any stress.  I hope there is something here that will help you relax and enjoy your holidays.  This was done for a Christmas Tablescape, but the principals apply to any holiday.

Pulling together an elegant Christmas Tablescape can seem daunting and expensive, however with a little thrift shopping through your Goodwill and the Dollar Tree, you can put a table together you will be proud of.

Most of the items to create this tablescape were thrift shopping treasures.

Shop the house for your favorite things and incorporate them in the table design.

I started with three of my cloches.  Everything always looks fabulous under a cloche.  An Angel, Cross or Santa statue would be a fabulous centerpiece, just use what you have.   A lace tablerunner from the 99c store forms the base for the centerpiece.

I used my largest cloche to set the theme for the table.  An Angel figurine to represent the season.

I found this wonderful angel at GW last year.  She has beautiful lace and ruffles on her dress, and she's holding a small heart with stars that says Joy.

A bird topped Bell Cloche was elevated on a cakestand.  Inside is a lovely marble covered orb, and a gold dove from the Dollar Tree is hanging off the side.

The small cloche holds a Faberge Egg with a jeweled Christmas Tree on the front.  It was a gift from my DH many years ago.  A pretty ornament from the DT would look just as good.

White pointsettias and gold leaves from the Dollar Tree create a lovely floral arrangement.  Add a few DT gold ornaments at the base to add additional interest.

I added more DT ornaments and floral picks around the table to fill in the centerpiece.  This also makes sure that each guest has something special to see.

Pull out your finest linens and china for the placesettings.  Everything I've used except for the wine glass and the sherbert came from GW or Thrift stores.  The placemats and napkins are tissue linen with a scalloped embroidery detail.  The china is Grace made in Japan found at GW layered with an everyday white salad.  The sherbet/compote glasses were a gift from a friend, and the wine glass was a wedding gift many years ago.  Everyday flatware looks right at home with the more elegant dishes.  Your everyday white dishes would look just as elegant and DT glasses would work perfectly.  The linens set the mood.  You could use a lace tablecloth, or even buy lace by the yard from Walmart and make your own tablecloth, since most lace doesn't have to be hemmed, you don't even have to know how to sew.

Everything looks better with candlelight.  Add lots of candles in varying heights.  The candle stems that I have used I found at GW, however you can find candlesticks in varying heights at GW and the DT.  Just put them all around the table to add an elegant glow.  The candles come in a box of 3 at the DT.

 You're all done.  Light the candles, dim the overhead lights and stand back and enjoy your pretty table.

  These are a few tips that I've learned over the years that will help you to enjoy your dinner party.


1.  Be prepared.  If you are prepared you will be relaxed and so will your guests.
2.  Plan a simple meal that doesn't require last minute cooking or prep.
3.  Set up a side table for desserts and have them set out and arranged before guests arrive.
4.  I also set up a side table for wine and other drinks.  Remove the wine glasses from the table and place them on the side table along with a chilled bottle of wine, a decanter of sparking cider and a decanter of juice or punch.  Label the decanters with simple labels and let your guests serve themselves.
4.  Remove the sherbet/compote glasses from the table and fill them with a simple shrimp or crab salad layered on a bed of shredded lettuce and have ready in the fridge.
5. About an hour before guests arrive, slice all the meats and arrange on a pretty platter. Ladel some of the juice from cooking over the top of the meet to keep it moist and fresh.  Arrange all the vegetables and any other side dishes in pretty bowls, cover with foil and have ready to go into a warming oven.  DO NOT OVERCOOK your food.  It will be in the warming oven for a while, so you want it to finish cooking there.
6.  Have the salad all prepared in advance, so you can pull it out of the fridge, give a quick toss with the dressing and serve.
7.  Clean the kitchen thoroughly, guests always wander through the house, so you want to have all the work already done so you can be a guest too and enjoy your company.
8. Right before guests arrive, fill the water glasses on the table, and put all the food in the warming oven.
9. Take off your apron, freshen your makeup and you are all ready.


 None of us have help, so being prepared makes serving easy.  As a note on ettiquet also, if you are a guest at someone's house, you can offer to help the hostess, however if she declines, don't linger in the kitchen, join the rest of the party and enjoy being a guest.
1.  Put the sherbet/ compotes with your shrimp/crab salad on the plates, light the candles and call your guests to dinner.
2.  Use a tray to remove the compote glass, saucer AND the salad plate.
3.  Give the salad a quick toss with your dressing and fill each salad plate and serve.
4.  Since we live much more casual lives, I always serve the main courses buffet style.  Remove the salad plates and take everything out of the oven and arrange on the counter or island for a pleasing buffet.  Have any condiments necessary arranged on the the buffet also.  Invite your guests to bring their plates and serve themselves.  This makes them feel comfortable to come back for seconds or to try something they didn't select the first time around.
5.  Enjoy your meal and your guests and linger as long as you like.
6.  I always have coffee ready to go with a tray full of cups and saucers so guests can help themselves after dinner.
7.  While they all visit and linger over coffee, clear away the dinner plates and stack neatly in the sink.  Don't start a lot of major clean up.  Cover any left over food and just place in the fridge as is.
8.  Visit and relax, your work is done.  Guests will feel free to help themselves to more wine, coffee or dessert when they are ready. You can suggest that dessert is there whenever they would like some, however there really isn't  a need to"serve" it.  Just slice the pie and cake and let them serve themselves.

I hope this helps you to feel relaxed and confident that you can have an elegant dinner party and still be a guest too.

I am joining the following parties:
Kim @ Savvy Southern Style for WOW Wednesday
Ivy @ Ivy and Elephants for What's It Wednesday
Kristen @ We Are That Family for Works For Me Wednesday
Lindsay @ Southern Lovely for Show and Share
Roeschel @ DIY Showoff for DIY Fall Festival
Judy @ DIY by Design for Fall Into Fall
Yvonne @ Stonegable  for Tutorials - Tips and Tidbits Thursday
Gina at The Shabby Creek Cottage for Transformation Thursday
Lindsay at Southern Lovely for Show and Share Thursday
Sherry at No Minimalist Here for Open House Party on Thursdays
Katherine at Katherines Corner for Favorite Things Thursday Hop
Niki at The Vintage Farmhouse for Creative Things Thursday
Kathy at A Delightsome Life for Home and Garden Thursday
Richella at Imparting Grace for Grace at Home


  1. This is an absolutely STUNNING table and VERY good advice.


  2. Great tips! I entertain often and do most of what you suggest,except for letting the guests help themselves to dessert,but I think I'll try this. Seems like a casual way to end a lovely meal! A couple other things I do:
    I label all my serving dishes with post it notes as to what goes in what dish, and put the serving utensils with them,as I often do have help to serve the meal and that way,the helpers know what to do.
    I also keep several large vases ready under the kitchen sink for flowers that guest bring.If someone wants to help in the kitchen,I often ask them to arrange the flowers.This keeps them busy and me free to attend to other things.
    Greeting guests with appies and a cocktail gets the party off on the right foot,so I set up a bar table(far away for the kitchen!)and add a cheese plate or other appie to it.
    Thanks for your post and your table looks gorgeous!

  3. Awesome tips and photos ! Thanks for sharing with us ! Have a good day !

  4. Wonderful post, Marty! Lots of good ideas!!

    My first big family Christmas dinner was 8 months after getting married and 5 months pregnant. Hubby and I had 27 guests for dinner. Both sides of the family! No one volunteered to help and if they had, I would have declined. We had a huge dinner, all cooked and baked by me and very little stress, because I did everything ahead, much like you suggested. The most stressful part was the up and down the stairs from Kitchen to Family Room with the dinner. And...the nephew (about 8yrs old) and his mom (SIL) who insisted I make a hamburger for him. But, I had a quick answer...I said NO...you should have brought one from home, if you knew you weren't going to eat what I made. LOL!!! Pretty good for a 20-year old, new bride and pregnant, huh?

    Jan :)

    1. Good for you!!!!!!!!!! That was exactly right. I never would have had the courage (at that age) to do that but I applaude you!!!! Pinky

    2. Good for you. How rude of her to ask you do cook something different. You were so correct to refuse.

  5. Those are some great tips and your tablescape is gorgeous and elegant. Love your cloches.

  6. Beautiful Marty, absolutely BEAUTIFUL!! Your photos and tips are wonderful, thank you! XO ~Liz


  7. You have set a magnificent table on a budget.. folks need to see this so they'll know it can be done.
    applause applause..~!

    great tips too. thank you

  8. Beautiful table, Marty!!! You find the prettiest things at your GW!!!! I also do most of your tips. Another idea I got (from Yvonne) is to have several dishpans in the laundry room filled with warm water and soap and just soak your dishes, glasses, flatware etc. to get to after guests leave!!! Love that idea too! XO, pinky

  9. What a gorgeous table - and great tips! I'm going to try some this year! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Great post Marty and lots of great tips that I will be using since we decided we are not going to NM for Thanksgiving after all! A long time friend called yesterday and her daughter is getting married in January and wants Bill to perform the wedding so 2 trips in a few months is just not doable - already have several coming over for Turkey day so will be needing all these great tips!

    Your table is gorgeous- guess a table set for Thanksgiving is something I have to put some thought into too now!

    bee blessed

  11. Perfect Marty! Very rarely do any of my tables have bought new items. The dollar tree and thrift stores are my secret weapons for setting a pretty table practically! We may be hosting our first ever company Christmas dinner this year so I am bookmarking this for a stress free, fun event :-)

  12. This is a wonderful post, Marty! Thank you for being so specific not only with your tips for decor but also for cooking and serving the food. I love the idea of serving the first course and salad and then having the main course and dessert as a buffet. Thank you for sharing all these tips!

  13. Marty, Beautiful tablescape! I love all your ideas and designs for the table. I learned a lot!


  14. Marty- I can certainly see why you were asked to repeat this one! It is gorgeous! You do such a beautiful job! xo Diana

  15. Even my cooking would taste good on that table! LOL!



  16. Thanks so much for the tips, Marty! Gorgeous table!

  17. Beautiful table and great tips, Marty!
    Love your cloches.
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia :)

  18. Gorgeous table Marty, love the gold and the candles and of course, your cloches.

  19. Awesome advise Marty. I love to entertain, and it saddens me when people say they wish they could entertain more but it scares them. I so agree, its all about being organized and having a plan. Beautiful tables with great pointers. xxoo

  20. Such a beautiful table and you seem so relaxed and ready to enjoy your guests. That's the most important thing, you've made eeryone feel special and comfortable. Thanks for sharing your great tips for successful entertaining!

  21. Marty I think that this is the loveliest table I have seen all season long!

    I love your tip about serving shrimp on a bed of lettuce. How elegant! I will be doing that for sure.

    On another sad note, do you know which hospital our Ceekay is in?

  22. This is a great post Marty. The table looks fantastic. Thanks for all the tips, I do always shop the house first.


  23. I've never hosted Thanksgiving. Not sure I would know where to start. I usually just bring a few dishes over to my sister's house. Your table looks gorgeous Marty. I will store these tips in a safe place (maybe Pinterest?) for future reference. THanks!

  24. Marty, this is worth a repeat. Gorgeous table and great advice. laurie

  25. Just beautiful Marty. Love all of your tips...I'm usually running around like a chicken without a head at the last minute. Maybe you can come and set up my next dinner party for me!
    Marianne :)

  26. Wonderful, sensible advice along with a stunning table setting Marty :o)
    Rose H

  27. Beautiful table and fabulous tips for us.

  28. A Million dollar looking table....can not believe where you got most of the stuff...the dishes are stunning....it's just beautiful.....

  29. So so beautiful Marty and those are fantastic tips! :-)

  30. Hi Marty,
    All I can say is WOW!!!! Your table setting is just gorgeous, you have such style and flair at tablescaping. I'm going to follow these great tips, I'm always running around like a chicken without a head (LOL).
    A happy and blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  31. Your table is absolutely stunning, and I love that you shared how much of it came from GW or DT. You really do find some amazing things. Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


  32. These tips are so awesome. I will be featuring this tomorrow night at my Fall into Fall party. Please stop by and pick up an I've Been Featured button. Thanks.

  33. So pretty! Great tips too :) Have a wonderful holiday...

  34. Beautiful table and great tips, Marty. Thanks for linking to the Open House party and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.