This is a trick I learned from my mama when we would cater for parties and events: Plan your table!
My husband and I hosted a meet-up last weekend for all the people he has met in New York who work in the same capacity as him. This was his third one and it's such a great way for people who only know each other 'online' to meet in real life! When he first told me he wanted to host it, I immediately decided that I should cater it. I had to take one day off work, but with some careful planning and a lot of kitchen time, I pulled it off!
For me, 'planning your table' means to make a list of all the recipes you are making, choose your dishes to serve them in (along with the serving utensils!), and create a layout on the table so you can see where everything will fit best for presentation and flow. This time was a bit trickier as we are in a temporary sublet and I did not pack any of my serving dishes with me! I borrowed some that I use for work events, and hit up Party City and the thrift store.
Here is a quick picture I took in the planning stage so I would remember where everything went after I moved them to add the tablecloth.
This is the snapshot we got before everyone started crowding around and digging in! Out of the shot was the mantle where the desserts were displayed and the buffet where the sliders and pigs-in-a-blanket were. Fancy is fun, but let me tell you, those sliders and pigs were a hit so know that it's okay to be playful - I added four flavors of ketchup I made for dipping and that really took it up a notch!
Remember to keep color and height in mind while planning. Put dip in a wine glass, garnish with some cherry tomatoes and basil if a plate needs a pop or color, and leave a little edge space for your guests to set their plate when grabbing food.
This seemed like a fitting post for Thanksgiving week, even though you can plan it out much further in advance if you know your menu! This technique is also great for noticing any 'holes' you have in your serving ware - could you use some cocktail forks or a long, skinny plate for crackers? Keep a list and when you are are a flea market or see some things on sale, you have something to refer too, instead of buying blindly and ending up with too many dishes to store (if there is such a thing as too many dishes...).
I am spending Thanksgiving with my future sister-in-law's family this year so there will be lots of new faces and traditions - I cannot wait to taste the dishes and share the holiday with them.
With a full heart and an empty plate,