Has making the table 'pretty' gone out of fashion?

robin_DCJuly 22, 2002

I hosted a small wedding shower this weekend, and because it was at 5:30, I served dinner at my dining room table. The bride is getting married in the caribbean, so I had a tropical theme in the invitations, favors, and the menu. I carried the theme to the table by using napkins with an orchid pattern in the corners, and placing deep pink bamboo placemats under the plates instead of chargers. The guests, who were female attorneys, ages 27-33, all made comments indicating they were impressed (and surprised) by the 'extra touches.' I was glad to get the compliments, but also a little bit surprised that they made such a big deal out of it (and several made comments indicating they would not bother with such arrangements if they had people over for dinner). I know I'm much more into those things than most people, but I also felt that using china, cloth napkins, and having a floral arrangement on the table are just 'what you're supposed to do' if you are serving dinner to people for a special occasion.

Anyway, I've been lurking/reading the posts on this forum for a while and thought you might be good people to ask---do you get similar reactions when you entertain? And is it really 'unexpected' to take the time to do these sorts of things?

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Most of the people for whom I entertain also "set a pretty table".....but some seem to have no idea how to do it....nor seem to want to bother.
These are the same people who serve supermarket rolls and frozen mashed potatoes at a dinner party.
It just has to do with the willingness to go the extra mile.
Linda C

    Bookmark   July 23, 2002 at 10:09AM
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Even for small informal family dinners I like a little something extra. I put a vase of fresh flowers on the table last weekend and my niece (28) promptly put them on the counter as "they got in her way". Even if we go paper/plastic for more picnic I like flowers, pretty napkins etc. I get the "why bother". Well, I like it. Even if they don't they could keep quiet. Even my 6 yr dd appreciates it. I'll keep doing it as long as someone appreciates it.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2002 at 10:48AM
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I'm always pleased when I see this--I personally like a pretty table, and I enjoy setting one. (But I do serve the frozen rolls--my are horrible!!! :):))

    Bookmark   July 23, 2002 at 3:17PM
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I think part of the astonsishment from your guests has to do with their demographics. They are all only a few years out of school. They are in a high stress, male dominated career. I suspect they have had a fairly limited number of female focused fancy dinners at someone's home. They have probably hosted even fewer. I don't think a pretty table is out of fashion, I just think these ladies don't know what IS fashionable in such a setting, because such settings aren't generally part of their normal routines.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2002 at 3:49PM
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Hmmmmm. Although I make an attempt to create a nice dinner table when we have guests, it's with a large degree of simplicity. A vase with fresh-cut flowers, or a handmade stoneware plate with a tall pillar candle or an assortment of candles is about as far as I go. I don't own china, crystal, or silver ... that's just not my style.

And BTW, I've never made anything but fresh mashed potatoes and I don't serve supermarket rolls. ;)

    Bookmark   July 23, 2002 at 5:57PM
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I think you probably gave quite a few women some new ideas about graciousness and how to have fun being a hostess. My Mother never paid any attention to details for decorating and I think she was too shy to ever give a party. But over the years I've learned so much from my friends. I love to dress up my house for guests. I think it makes everyone feel welcome and energized and maybe just because it's fun.


    Bookmark   July 23, 2002 at 7:08PM
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I admit it, I've served frozen dinner rolls out of desperation. I think sprucing up the house for guests is fun. I get personal satisfaction whether guests notice or not. My mom was just a good ole country gal as she put it and "fancy" was not her thing. She did like candles at special occasions and a birthday cake deserved a pedestal cake plate. Fresh flowers, good dishes etc were also done for special occasions. Now, those occasions may be just because. Sometimes flowers, candles or your other pretty things can boost the atmosphere. Some couldn't care less what the table looks like, but I appreciate pretty things at home or others homes. I detest generic plastic posies at restaurants tho. I'd rather have nothing.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2002 at 12:15PM
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I have served on entertainment committees for places I work, schools and have been "volunteered" by my husband -- all because of the tables I set. I believe that a "pretty" table adds to the enjoyment of good food, a setting compliments rather than detracts. This doesn't mean that I'm not above spreading newspaper for a shrimp peel, but is is more likely that I'd have little tin pails for the shrimp with oversized bandanna to protect your clothing!

Go ahead and do your thing, enjoy and if the people who attend your functions don't "appear" to appreciate it, don't sweat it. It is likely that they do appreciate it but are unused to the extra effort and that is what is appearing to be a less than enthusistic responce.

(After leaving one school, I recieved a phone call regarding the annual staff party. Imagine the surprise when the new committee members went to the storage cabinet and looked for the linens, candle holders, hurricane globes and small decorations I had supplied for the last two years! None of it was available, since I had set up and cleaned up the party using my own decorations! The only thing that the school HAD supplied was several potted plants, (which I had wrapped the bases of in Holiday material and large bows). It was funny, I was never given a single one of those plants, since I had so many decorations available already! Oh I miss SOME of the people -- some of the time!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2002 at 12:17PM
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thanks for the responses! I do it, of course, because I enjoy it and I think it makes things more special, etc. Going to c&b to pick out napkins and buying flowers at the farmer's market and arranging them was fun to me. I guess it's just a matter of what you're accustomed to and what you see.

I like the idea that maybe someone might add a little extra something the next time they have a party, after noticing the extra things I did!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2002 at 1:21PM
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Robin~ my friends mother threw just that type of luncheon for me when I got married just a few months ago. It made me feel so special! I also go so excited about having those types of parties, and making other people feel good! I must say I could really identify with what Duckie said. I fit those demographics too. Our house is small and we've never had nice things (like china) so to us, dinner is breaking out the BBQ.
Keep decorating and have fun!

    Bookmark   July 25, 2002 at 3:52PM
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Beachbum---it's nice to hear that you enjoyed the fact that your mother did that for you.
I actually fit the same demographics as all the guests---most of us went to law school together!! But in this respect I don't fit the mold...

    Bookmark   August 7, 2002 at 5:05PM
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Must admit I am one who likes to have the flowers and all my best china, I must own 15 different sets of cloth napkins and placemats, endless numbers of serving dishes and candles.....but I am not a theme person.

On the other hand my sister could care a less if the plates even match!! But she is a generous and warm hostess.

We are all different, with different time constraints, budgets, imaginations and energy levels. That we invite people we care about into our homes to share special moments is the important thing...I think.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2002 at 8:30PM
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Sharon, one of the things I admire about you is your ability to put things in perspective.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2002 at 8:48PM
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Whether it's just DH and me, or friends and family, I always set a special table. Not fancy, just warm and inviting with mixes of colors and textures.

Like Sharon, I have an eclectic mix of dishes, cloth napkins, and rings (my china is still in the original boxes, having never been used)-all accumulated over time.

Just makes me feel good to have a nice table whether we're eating indoors or out.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2002 at 12:49PM
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My dh and I have parties at our house, but deal in simplicity. One reason is that I really don't know how to "set" a pretty table. Are there books on the subject, or could you give me some pointers? Thanks!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2002 at 11:10AM
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Grammy Jo,

It might be best to start a new thread for your subject. Your question might get lost on the bottom of this old one.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2002 at 4:57PM
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This is some of the advise I might give to my son or daughter if they asked about a dinner party.

If you don't have the cookbook, Joy Of Cooking, go get it and read about the table (pretty good receipes too). Then get an old copy of one of Gloria Vanderbilt's books about manners.
She is good at explaining why something is done at table.

When I finally learned that every piece you use on a table should have some reason. Most of the reasons would come back to making something easier to handle, eat or be pretty to look at.

That extra thought......having a salt at each place makes it easier to use and not have to ask for it to be passed (even though a good guest would never salt without tasting and very rarely use the salt even if they did like more salt because it would indicate that the host's food was not prepared properly....a guest has a responsibility as well at table).

Thoughtfulness for your guest from knowing what they can eat, to likes and dislikes makes a guest's time at your home more enjoyable and why would you invite anyone to your home that you did not enjoy?

Watch your guests (and they should be watching you as well for direction) and if someone seems confused by the food or settings, give them gentle direction.

This is the story of the dinner party I gave last week.

I had the dinning room table set with service plates for four, a antique crystal water glass filled with water with a piece of mint floating in it, a crystal tea glass (Texas house wine!) and a white wine crystal glass. The top of the left hand side I had a bread and butter plate that had a rose shaped piece of butter with a piece of parsley and a wedge of lime (for the tea) and a silver butter knife. The silver was two forks, one salad and one dinner fork (on the left), on the right hand I had a service knife, teaspoon and a soupspoon. Crystal hurricane lamps with white candles were burning flanking a low small decoration of flowers in a Waterford vase. I had each place set with a set of salts and in the middle of the table I had the French sterling pepper grinder that I found in the flea market in Las Vegas. Good white napkins that my grandmother had embroidered were on the left of the forks. There was a silver crumb and brush set on the marble buffet table in the room along with another vase of flowers and a Waterford crystal table lamp lit with a small bulb. I had also set out a set of six sterling cordials cups extra white napkins and silver serving spoons and forks.

The table was covered with a damask light gray cover cloth over a silencer board.
We removed all but four chairs and lit the candles on the sideboard. The camel carpet on the floor is covered with a nice old Kharma wool rug in muted blues and sea greens and other colors.

On top of the service plates, we set a saucer and soup rim bowl in the china pattern called "Marlborough" by Minton. Inside the rim soup I had already placed croutons that I had made from small French baggett bread spread with sun dried tomatoes and basil from the garden and olive oil and a piece of basil from the garden.

When they arrived, I had appetizers and champagne ready on the coffee table. I had a cheese ball that I made rolled in the pecans that our tree grows, I had a pate, shrimp and Spanish sardines on water crackers all surrounded by the croutons that I had made and water crackers for spreading. The champagne was American (should not even call it champagne) but a nice one and served in crystal flutes (I know use the crystal bowl champagne glasses that match the Waterford pattern for dessert because it is supposed to be bad to let all the bubbles out in the open bowl). Nice music was playing and candles were burning.

When we went into the dinning room, I had heated the old floe-blue soup tourine and then filled it with tomato/basil soup that I had made from chicken stock, our tomatoes and fresh basil and cream. Everyone was seated and we served the soup and a nice white wine. (Thank goodness that I had extra tomatoes and frozen chicken stock ready).

I had the plates warming in the otherwise empty dishwasher and then took our soup rims and plates away and brought back a salad of tiny greens covered with all kinds of fresh cut up fruit covered with an interesting dressing made with balsamic vinegar, salt, olive oil, honey, herbs and chili powder along with some more of the croutons that I had made with sun dried tomatoes.

I am worrying by now that the sorbet that I had made with champagne, honey and fruit was being frozen enough to serve. It did and when we took away the salad plates and forks, I brought in a palate cleanser of champagne sorbet. It came in on a coffee/tea plate with a crystal two piece bowl. The larger bowl had crushed ice with mint leaves over the ice and the top cup had the sorbet scoops decorated with mint from the garden.

The roasted chicken was in the oven in the upright stand that allows you to roast a chicken without putting it in a pan. The smell from the chicken was wonderful with it's brown skin and all the herbs were beautiful to look at. I also had a wild rice and white rice pilaf in a large skillet with onions, celery, spring onions, peas, herbs and chicken stock getting tender. I had bought frozen puff pastry that I had browned and scooped out the center and then brushed with butter and filled with frozen peas cooked in a white cream sauce.

After everyone finished the sorbet, I cleared the table of all the china even the service plates (the warm dinner plates were placed on the table).

We then brought in the roasted chicken on a service platter with sterling carving set and surrounded with parsley and cut tomatoes. We brought in the pea cups (love the way that sounds) in a covered silver oblong tray with silver tongs to serve them and the rice pilaf on a silver tray with a large serving spoon and decorated with parsley.

I had a reduced brown sauce that I had made from venison stock and mushrooms and butter served in a china sauceboat.

The plates were all removed after dinner and I had a desert choice of chocolate peanut butter cake served on a china plate decorated with dark chocolate sauce, ice cream and a mint leaf or heated cherry pie with cream. There was a good coffee with tiny brown sugar crystal candy looking sugar from our trip to Belgium and cream. After desert we brought in a large plate of cheese and fruit with fruit knives and offered after dinner drinks or brandy in large crystal snifter glasses.

We took our drinks out into the back yard and watched the comets that were beginning to travel in the night sky.

I used probably 100 different china dishes and when Becky said that she would hate to see the kitchen, Carl invited to see the kitchen, which was all clean except the dishes in the dishwasher!

I only had one day to plan this meal and I didn't want to serve something that would take me days to think about and prepare so I used the old standby chicken and it worked out beautifully! If you keep some of the other things on hand, you can have a nice dinner party without a huge amount of money and time. I was even dressed and ready when they arrived which is not normal for me! I am running at the last minute and have not had time to get dressed.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2002 at 10:47PM
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I like what chase had to say...one way isn't necessarily better than another...over the years, I had 2 (out of 5)children who were chronically critically ill, also some pretty severe problem pregnancies. In between running a business and a home, I ran out of time for elegance in dining. For me, it was like being released from a bondage. I had to be perfect and etc. Now, my life is easing up in many ways, and I find that WHEN I choose to, I can make a table pretty because I just have that creative urge. But my guest always seem to appreciate coming no matter what the decor--I like to think I am a "generous and warm hostess"! My guests usually tell me that they feel more comfortable at my home than even their own, which I take as a compliment! I often use paper plates these days, but also ALWAYS make my mashed potatoes from scratch! :-)
Just enjoy everyone who is REAL, whether they do decor (to make guests feel special, not to impress), or just serve with love!
Blessings on your tables! Jillis!

    Bookmark   August 26, 2002 at 8:47AM
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I always enjoy setting a pretty table & having a theme & providing some sort of favor for people to take home. Most people I know don't do this though so they do give me allot of compliments when they come to my home. The part I like abottu entertaining is creating that whole look, so even if I brought in take out I'd make sure it was set on my prettiest tableware.

I'm having a holiday Moms & tots party next wk & I made sure to purchase all sorts of snowman papergoods (it is after all a kiddie party) & have followed through with the theme by getting snowmen tumblers for the kids & filling them with goodies. I also bought huge snowman ceramic mugs for only $1.99 at Party City & those will be what the Moms will drink their hot cocoa out of plus I will wash & send them home with them as their favors. My centerpiece & diningroom decor is also in a snowman theme to complete the look.

A few nights later I'm having guest over for a dessert night & like last yr I'll have my best Xmas china, cloth napkins & I tie the napkins with red cording & dangle a silvered Xmas ornament, which they may then take home with them.

So, in answer to your question I don't think setting a pretty table is out of style.


    Bookmark   December 5, 2002 at 1:18AM
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I just had to respond to the person making the comments about folks buying stuff at the store. Ya know I get so stressed out trying to make everything come out just right when I cook that I don't cook much when I have a party. I buy a lot of it. I love to entertain, and do it well if I might brag a bit. There are many fine places to get ready made food. I put them in my own dishes and I'm sure some of it is much better than I could have made myself.

I don't think going the extra mile means the same to all of us. I like to go to a party where the setting is comfortable, and the host/hostess is gracious. Food is a wonderful compliment to an evening, but it is certainly not the reason I go to my friends.

I have been to homes where the hostess does nothing but run around like a chicken with her head cut off,or is frazzled when she greats guests from preparations. I'd prefer they buy some rolls at the store and whatever else they need to make the evening easier, and enjoyable for everyone.

Society isn't full of stay at home moms, or even women with husbands. some of those people just don't have the time like others. We need to support each other in whatever works for us. There are truly lots of ways to host a lovely party. By the way, I love to decorate and create a lovely ambiance for my guests, and I'm proud to say I don't mind buying stuff at the store. My guests must love the parties too, because they always come back!

    Bookmark   December 10, 2002 at 12:41AM
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I've never had (or wanted) china or crystal; my friends who have it never use it. I have found some rather inventive things to do with cloth napkins over the years, none of which involved using them for napkins. I don't think a pretty table is necessarily out of fashion, it's just been surpassed by the need to simplify.

At last night's informal "dinner party", held at our home, we ate take-out pizza as our main entree, but we used matching stoneware dishes and matching glass glasses (we're at the point in our lives here where MATCHING dishes for 10 people can be a bit of a challenge--we seem to have collected a real mish-mash of dishes). I took the artificial flower arrangement off the table (it was too tall) and we used paper napkins. We had a wonderful visit with good friends, no stress.

Is this what my mother or grandmother would have done? Definitely not! But they were home full-time to cook, clean, and set the table.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2003 at 9:04PM
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I have lived in more houses than I care to count. I realized at some point that we never even entered the dining room. since then...maybe 1970 we eat in the dining room. every night. chargers under the plates, cloth napkins, nice wine glasses, no matter what your choice is to drink. antique silverware, and the dinnerware changes with my moods. I have 5 different sets from new (10 years old) to very antiques ones. It make dinner a pleasure.
company seems to always be surprised.....kinda sad
buts that how it is in my house.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2003 at 8:17PM
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I don't think its unusual at all. That's what I do too. Its partly because I'm a decorator, but its also because that's what my mother did (she's from Europe) so I grew up with having real china and tablecloths and my parents lived in a modest house.

I just like the way real china and crystal looks and feels. And everyone likes candles and flowers, even small children. And people do notice the extra touches and do appreciate it. You don't have to be formal to like it. You can create any look from fancy to casual country with the same materials, just depends what you mix it with.

I'm sure your guests will remember that you made them feel special.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 3:10PM
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I like setting a pretty table on the nights my hubby and I have dinner together. With both of our busy schedules, working over time, certain meetings, etc., we have maybe 2 sit down dinners during the week, and one every Sunday. My table is always set with a table cloth and I have several inexpensive ones that can be bleached if necessary. I have grandkids that come over often, so linen isn't practical for us. But I don't like a bare table or place mats. I also always have a floral or candle centerpiece on the table, so whether it's pizza with the grand kids or a nice dinner with hubby, I will light the candles.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2005 at 10:31PM
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Setting the table is the best part of entertaining for me. I love using my beautiful things, and I love washing them and putting them away again, and washing and ironing the linens. (Yes, I hate ironing shirts as much as the next person, but ironing linens keeps me in touch with where they came from- my mother, my grandmother, my MIL, wedding gifts, and even tag sale linens!) I love using my sterling, which my mother picked out for me when I was a baby, and my grandmother's Haviland and cut glass. I love fresh flowers and candles on the table. In fact, I love using the dining room, and if it's more than the 2 of us, I do. We moved last year and the dining room in the new house is easier to use than in our previous house, and I'm happy it gets so much use. I don't always use my good china for everyday dinners in the DR, but I always use my sterling. When my boys were small, I taught them the correct way to set a table, and we always used placemats and cloth napkins, even in the breakfast room. My daughter-in-law is beyond casual - no placemats or tablecloth, sometimes you have to ask for a napkin, bread in a plastic wrapper, etc. My GD, her daughter, is only 2, but she refers to my china and crystal as "Su-su's pretties". I tell her, "Play your cards right and this can all be yours." I gave her an infant feeding spoon in my pattern when she was born as well as a sterling baby cup and a small spoon and fork in my pattern. I am pleased to see that my DIL lets her use them often. I am going to give my DIL (among other things) some pretty washable placemats and cloth napkins (no-iron). Small steps.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2005 at 3:56PM
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It's nice your DIL can learn from you. Give her time, I was also pretty unconcerned about table linens and such when I was younger, for me back then (I'm in my late 40's now) being domestic was "settling" and all I wanted was a career outside the home. But over time things changed... I learned to cook, started working from home and became much more interested in my house and garden. Now I'm an interior decorator and love all things to do with the home. My mother chuckles at the transformation and my dad (rest his soul) would be amazed.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2005 at 3:13PM
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I love this topic. It makes me think of how we evolve into what we like to do. My mother always set a beautiful table with her Desert Rose dishes. She had all the accompanying pieces and used damask tablecloths and Fenton glassware. I actually think it made the food taste better.

I have always appreciated going to someone's home and being served dinner with them using their fine china and crystal. It sort of makes you feel special that they went to the trouble of doing this.

Until 3 years ago, (I'm 64) any dishes I had came from the grocery store or discount house. My crystal was beautiful and came from a garage sale. I did not have a china closet. I always wanted to have these things and use them, so when I retired, I bought nice Lennox Butler's Pantry dishes, new crystal, china cabinet, etc. I get a lot of enjoyment from using them now that I have them and have the time to enterain. I have had positive comments about how nice it is to sit down to a nicely decorated table.

I must use King Solomon's saying, "For everything there is a season."

dlee69: I enjoyed reading your post. You obviously take great delight in entertaining. Invite me for dinner!

    Bookmark   December 12, 2005 at 7:29PM
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I love a pretty table too ...even just for our meals. I have China but it's not something I use often anymore...although it has never been one of those sit on the shelf and never use things...In the last few years though since it is just my Beloved and myself...I buy dinner ware from open stock....If I see something that looks like it is fun...I buy two place settings or depending on what it is...just whatever I feel like...There is just the two of us so it doesn't make sense for me to have a ga-zillion sets of dishes...so I have lots and lots of different patterns...some from the local dollar type store and some from the finer retail stores...I love them all...Oh I have one set (2 plates etc) from the super market...very Italian looking that I love to use..Pier One is a favorite place of mine and I just love picking up dishes and linens and placemats there.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 12:59PM
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