Thursday, August 16, 2007

HELP, My table is small...

Do you live in an apartment with a tiny eating area and room for only a small, round table? Are you setting up housekeeping with only a card table for your dining surface? If so, you can find creative ways to set a lovely table and even to serve several guests in your home. The following are some suggestions:

1) Hunt garage sales, thrift stores, and relatives' attics to find a small table -- preferably one that folds or rolls away -- that you can use as a sideboard. You might luck upon a lovely tea cart, but even a microwave cart will do. Place your serving dishes and pitchers for re-filling glasses on this cart or table. On your eating table, set out only the dishes and utensils that each person will need. Consider leaving off the bread plate and the salad plate and having only the dinner plate. By using a "sideboard" to hold extra things needed for the meal, you may find that you will even have room on the eating table for a small centerpiece and possibly a few candlesticks as well. When the meal is over, put up the food and the pitchers, and use the cart to roll away dirty dishes.
2) Make a dessert that can be placed on individual dessert plates ahead of time. When it comes time for dessert, whisk the dirty dishes to a sink of soapy water and pull out the dessert. You could also put salad into individual bowls or salad plates ahead of time. If you are having company, ask one of the women ahead of time if she will help you manage the courses.
3) Serve buffet style. Set up chairs in your living room for guests. Push your small eating table back against the wall. Place the centerpiece and candles toward the center back of the table and arrange the serving dishes and eating dishes and utensils in a pretty, convenient arrangement moving forward and out from there. Or, if you have a kitchen island, make that the center of your buffet. Set chairs around for your guests, If you and your friends are young, some may not even mind sitting on the floor. You can even throw down large cushions or pillows for this purpose. Remember, if your guests will be sitting in chairs or on the floor, they won't be able to balance a whole lot. And, they won't be able to negotiate flimsy plates. If you are serving a casual buffet and you are using paper goods, make sure that the plates are sturdy enough for guests to manage in their laps.
4) Have baked potato suppers, chili suppers, ice cream suppers, make your own pizza parties, etc. Or, have a party in which you serve heavy hor d'oeuvres rather than a traditional sit down meal. In the summer, have a cook-out. In other words, do something that is simple and in which the guests help with the preparation. The only drawback is that if your guests must sit in chairs without a table or on the floor, some of these foods can be pretty messy. So, think carefully about how your guests will manage beforehand. If you can find some inexpensive TV trays at a garage sale or thrift shop, these can go along way towards helping guests eat comfortably. Two people can even share a table by placing their drinks on it, while holding their plates in their lap. Another idea is to forget serving a dinner and invite people for dessert instead. Most people can manage a dessert plate and a beverage fairly easily. (Don't let pets and toddlers roam freely over a floor on which people may have set beverages.)
5) Set up a card table in addition to your usual eating table. Place a pretty cloth over it. A card table will hold four more guests. So, if you can seat four at your regular table, you can host eight simply by setting up a card table. Make sure that the two tables are far enough apart that people from each table will not bump into those from the other table. If you must put the extra four guests in a completely separate room, bring everyone together for coffee and dessert. Have people circle up their chairs while eating dessert.

Note: The solutions in which guests must eat in chairs without a table or on the floor are not "ideal". But, I've hosted such parties and have attended many, as well. If you can manage to make your guests feel comfortable in these settings, go for it! If you wait until you have the ideal table or the ideal eating space to show hospitality, you'll miss out on a lot of fun.



Meredith said...

As usual, a really good article!

When we could fit only a small round table in the corner, I specialized in "one fork" meals that people could eat at the sofa, around the coffee table, etc.

Things like casseroles, salads, pies make it possible to eat with only a fork. Of course, I would have other utensils if people needed them, but planning meals that need only a fork to enjoy made tight spaces easier for us.

abrianna said...

If you have a fireplace, depending on how big or long it is, you can use that as a place to either rest plates and drinks, or put pillows along it and have people sit on pillows on the hearth.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Meredith and Abrianna,

Great ideas! I love "one fork" meals. Using the fireplace is a great idea. I grew up in a home that had a raised hearth in front of the fireplace that was a perfect place for extra seating. Unfortunately, my hearth is flat to the ground. But, I have a throw rug over it so that we can sit in front of it to get warm.