Turn the tables on your big Thanksgiving family dinner

Every year at Thanksgiving, Dan and I face a dilemma: How should we use our dining-room table to best accommodate the friends and family who join us for this food fest?

If you’re entertaining too large a crowd for everyone to have a table sitting this Thanksgiving

If you’re entertaining too large a crowd for everyone to have a table sitting this Thanksgiving

Every year at Thanksgiving, Dan and I face a dilemma: How should we use our dining-room table to best accommodate the friends and family who join us for this food fest?

Should we attempt a traditional sit-down dinner, with everyone squeezed around our dining-room table? Or should we use the table as a buffet, letting guests scatter about the house, snatching a seat in any chair that does not hold a sleeping cat?

Every year, our answer is different. But through the years, I’ve learned some tricks for making both presentations beautiful and special.

Perhaps they will help you as you set up for guests this Thanksgiving.

Dine In: Thanksgiving dinner is a really big deal at our home, and we relish the chance to sit around the table with family and friends, laughing and telling stories long into the night.

So when we can manage it, dining at the table together is always our first choice.

If you’re expecting an intimate group, set a truly lavish table, one worthy of this grand holiday.

Use your silver serving pieces, china and crystal. And take the time to add special touches, like names and menu cards.

But if you’re entertaining a large group, you’ll need to plan the table very efficiently so you can economize on space without compromising on style.

One way Dan and I save coveted table space is to plate each guest’s meal in the kitchen, then use a butler’s cart to hold refills. I also keep individual place settings simple so they don’t gobble up much room.

For instance, this year I’m going to use small wicker trays instead of oversized chargers.

Pour your creative energy into creating a centerpiece that’s attractive yet streamlined.

One Thanksgiving, I placed white pottery urns and cachepots down the table’s center, being sure to vary the heights to keep things interesting. Then I filled the containers with green and white gourds and fall foliage.

The look was clean and simple yet very effective.

For a more glamorous look, mist pumpkins, leaves and nuts with gold or silver spray paint and arrange your glammed-up goodies in tall cylinder vases, apothecary jars or urns.

Carry Out: When the size of our party outstrips the space around our table, we switch to Plan B and create a sumptuous buffet on our dining-room table.

Secretly, I love this option because buffets are easy to set up yet are every bit as beautiful as a wonderfully set table.

Start with a dramatic centerpiece. Last year, I filled a huge cylinder vase with branches, then added in fall foliage dotted with berries and pods. The arrangement was light, loose and airy, yet incredibly powerful.

Next, enlist your finest serving pieces, like silver chafing dishes and trays, crystal pitchers and compotes, and china vases and plates.

For contrast, include rustic pieces like a wicker basket holding silverware bundles.

One secret of an eye-catching buffet is to use a variety of heights in your food presentation.

A sea of platters and plates set flat against the table can be monotonous. So generate visual energy by elevating some of your selections.

Use a three-tiered server to hold cheeses. Stack one cake plate on top another to display fresh fruit. Fill a compote with rolls. Place a crystal water pitcher and goblets on a footed silver serving tray.

When you arrange the serving dishes, make sure the order makes sense so guests can flow around the table without having to double back to get an out-of-place item. Then, label each culinary creation with a beautifully lettered menu card.

I’m serious when it comes to eating, so when I pick the dinner plates for the Thanksgiving buffet, my mantra is “the bigger, the better.”

I always use oversized white square dinner plates because they hold lots of food, and guests can easily balance them on their laps.

Mary Carol Garrity is author of several best-selling books on home decorating.

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