Home Style: Pull together a beautiful food-service display quickly
Whether entertaining friends for a summer party or just planning dinner for the family, set up a lovely food service to make the meal extra-special. It's remarkably easy to pull together a beautiful service display in minutes.
One of the best spots to create a dynamite food-service display in seconds is on your dining-room buffet.
Begin by scrutinizing the wall behind the buffet. Can it use some great artwork? I have a sensational painting hanging behind my buffet that is so big it almost spans the buffet's width. Its presence alone ramps up the look of the whole presentation.
Try flanking either side of the buffet with matching lamps. Forget those wimpy buffet lamps of old and go for larger, taller ones that make a statement. If your room has tall ceilings, like mine does, don't be afraid to pick lamps that stretch toward the ceiling.
Once these design cornerstones are in place, add a few accents you can leave on your buffet year-round, then spice up with seasonal decor. For instance, include a gorgeous English footbath or hurricane or serving bowl in the foreground of your buffet display, then use this fetching container to hold seasonal treasures, like seashells in the summer and gourds in the fall. Could it get any simpler? Or set the buffet as if you're going to have a party that day. Use intriguing serving pieces to create an attractive display you can leave in place. Then, when you want to entertain, you just need to wash up the dishes and you're ready to go. How easy is that?
I really enjoy coming up with unconventional spots to serve food and drinks when entertaining. It's fun to see guests' faces light up when treated to an unexpected surprise. June is my absolute favorite month for entertaining outdoors, and through the years I've done a lot of experimenting with ways to display appetizers, drinks and dinner on my screened porch and courtyard.
This year I put an all-purpose black iron urn at the foot of the steps that lead from my porch to my courtyard, then topped it with a silver three-tiered server. The coffee service, displayed on different levels of the server, suddenly went from looking like a functional necessity to artwork that brightened up the corner. Think about how you can do something similar in your home -- put appetizers or drinks in a spot no one would suspect, turning it into a visually arresting display in the process.
When I entertain inside, especially if I'm having a big group that won't fit at my dining-room table, I like to create stations around my home where I can place drinks and appetizers, leaving my buffet open to serve the main course. One fun and unexpected spot for a beverage service is on a small table placed in front of the hearth.
I think there are two keys to stress-free entertaining. One is to practice. The more you entertain, the easier it becomes because you find your own style and rhythm. The other key is to have the right serving tools at your fingertips. Through the years, I've collected the serving pieces I need to pull together a party in a snap.
If you don't already have a good set of versatile serving pieces, start collecting them right away. Let friends and family know what kinds of pieces you're looking for -- chances are, they will be happy to have some ideas for birthday or holiday gifts.
Here is my list of must-have serving pieces for when I entertain:
-- Multitiered servers. Whether they are epergnes, tiered servers or multileveled plate stands, serving pieces that allow you to elevate food selections are the key to creating a great display.
-- Cake plates. If you want to make anything look special, serve it on a cake plate. For an even sweeter presentation, stack two or three cake plates on top of each other.
-- Platters. Whether filled with savory food or holding silverware bundles, beautiful platters add to the elegance of a presentation.
-- Silver trays. They make everything look elegant. Use them to serve food, hold plates or corral glasses on the bar. They serve a million and one purposes, and you'll wonder how you ever got along without them.
-- Apothecary jars and hurricanes. These essential decorating tools are not only great accents for displays, they can be used to help serve meals as well.
-- Beverage urns and pitchers. I keep a glass urn with a spigot on my dining-room buffet to serve water, punch or tea. When I'm not entertaining, I fill it with treasures, like gourds.
-- Serving bowls. For added punch, put a serving bowl or two atop a cake plate or another riser.
Take advantage of vertical space. In my courtyard, for a recent function, I created a drink-service display using a metal planter fitted with several leaf-shaped tiers. I rested wine glasses and an ice bucket on the leaves. I used a silver gallery tray to hold the wine. The live topiary next to the tray and the maidenhair fern in the tiered planter added to the garden ambiance of this outdoor bar.
When selecting serving pieces and accents for a display, pull together a mix of heights, styles and mediums. I love to pair elegant pieces with the more rustic.
This column has been adapted from Mary Carol Garrity's blog at www.nellhills.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.