With the holidays just around the corner, we’ve been spending a lot of time talking about fall entertaining. When it comes to big family dinners, one point that always comes up is how do you seat and serve a large crowd of people. The days of matching china for 12 are, for most people, gone. So unless you inherited Grandma’s set, what can you do?
The simple, totally chic and very green answer is: mix and match. And the best part of all? It’s super easy to change it up every season, or even every dinner party, to get a fresh new look.
First things first. Think about your tablescape. It starts with a base layer like a runner or tablecloth, this is what will set the tone for your table. Think of it like the foundation of a house – everything else will build from this. The next layer is individual place settings. These can be as casual as a funky placemat and fun plates or as formal as multi-layer chargers and plates. This is also the layer where the mix and match will really come into play. Finally, there is décor like the centerpiece. You don’t have to go all out with a giant floral arrangement. Keep it with the theme of your dinner and have fun with it. A few bud vases, or a grouping of candles is all you need. A large hurricane vase is an infinitely flexible tool for creating seasonal centerpieces. At a big holiday party, you may wind up using food as the centerpiece. If that’s the case, make sure to bring in some décor elements in the other layers.
Now, about those place settings…
There are basically two main options when doing mix and match, and some variations within them. You can go the complete mix up where every place setting is unique. This is a great option for large dinners where you might be combining different family sets of china, or if you have many years’ worth of odd dinnerware pieces. This approach is best suited to romantic country and cottage styles or boho chic.
We prefer the second approach. Select two or more coordinating colors or patterns and alternate them so that one person has a dinner plate from one pattern, but a salad plate from another, while their neighbor has the reverse. You can also simply alternate place settings, so each dinner has a full setting from one patterns while their neighbor has a different pattern. This method works with any style of décor and simply requires that you have enough of each type of dish to serve all of your guests, and that they coordinate.
So, you’ve got your tablecloth down. Set each place with a large plate, alternating two or more patterns along the table. Then layer on a smaller plate in a different, but coordinating, color or pattern. Here’s where you can have some fun. So long as your colors coordinate, and the patterns don’t clash horribly, you can make this work. These will be your entrée (the large plate) and salad (the smaller plate) dishes. If you have the pieces and the space, add an even smaller piece for bread and butter. But don’t forget that dessert is coming up as well, so save enough dishes for that.
Now, add in the “extras” – the serving plates, platters and bowls. They can match any of your dishes, or be completely different, so long as they coordinate. Treat glassware the same as dinnerware – if you don’t have enough of one type of glass for each person, then mix in coordinating patterns. Do the same with silverware, either give each diner a matched set and alternate them around the table, or mix and match each setting so they’re all different.
Top each setting off with a cloth napkin, they don’t have to all match, tied with a coordinating bit of twine or ribbon, and you’re set to entertain even the largest crowd in eco-friendly style.