How many to expect for any dinner around here is always, well, a moving target. With three brothers, our combination of 16 kids, and any mix of our friends, it’s not easy to get a solid number until you’re serving dinner. One thing I’m always certain of — especially on the weekends, we’ll have a lot of people. Here are some tried and true tricks I’ve used to manage plenty of people in a small space. (It’s funny, it’s never really a small house until it’s jammed with far more people than you’d been told about. Now you’ve to manage where to put them — and make it seem effortless. “Oh! YOU’RE here!…I mean, how wonderful you could make it! Ummm, of course you’re here! This is…wonderful! Yeah. Uh huh!”)
These pictures are from our recent game dinner (aka…clean out the freezer dinner!) — for a few more than the dozen folks I’d originally planned to invite…like about 40 more….
1. First, use narrow tables! For several reasons: 1. you get more space 2. Even better, you can talk with more people! The three people across from you are as accessible as the folks on either side of you. Speaking of merrier! (We’ve all been stuck at a wide table looking at our dinner partners and wondering how long we have to sit there and be polite before we can get up and find some fun people to talk to.)
2. Tuck them in, but not TOO close! A formal distance is a minimum of 30 inches between place settings and that’s all fine if you’re hosting a State Dinner. But we’re just serving a nice dinner here, so a minimum of 15 inches between place settings, or approximately 24 inches from the center of one place setting to the middle of the next is comfortable, and the way we had to go — it’s about the narrowest place setting you can get away with and still be nice. And no, I don’t measure it, I eyeball it! Important tip: DON’T BE A PERFECTIONIST. DON’T OVERTHINK ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR TABLE. But you don’t want people to be elbowing each other and getting annoyed…
3. We always have one long table — and since the tables are narrow, we are able to create a horseshoe shape. Works like a charm!
4. With that many people, create TWO buffets on opposite sides of the room. This really helps move people along. Nothing is worse than being in a small dining space, standing in “line” next to the poor folks who’ve already sat down to their places and are leaning over their dinners to stay out of your way!
5. Centerpieces are low and narrow with a few feathers spraying up for height without getting in the way of cross table conversations. (We used small crystal glasses and julep cups with oasis in them for this, then found any green bush we could find outside for greenery and stuck a little Spanish moss in to hide the oasis).
Also, the candelabra are far too big for these tables, so we lined them up on the mantlepiece which, backed by an antique mirror threw twice the candlelight that night! Lovely — as the dinner was lit only by candlelight.
6. And the final line I always say regarding seating…”Don’t sit next to anyone you wake up next to”. Seems to work!!