Flatware is more fun when it doesn’t match. Unearth your various inherited sets, bring on the fancy wedding-gift sets, and pair it all with a few sale sets from a discount store. - MCT

Party perfect

Of course your warm hospitality and sumptuous fare are what bring folks to your home for the holidays. But is it wrong to hope they're a little bit wowed by your killer table settings, as well?

Of course not. Which is why we sought some expert advice on hosting holiday festivities that leave your guests sated, spirited and slightly amazed at your all-around fabulousness.


Plates. Stock up on at least a dozen white dinner plates and a dozen white salad plates, says Kevin Sharkey, Martha Stewart Living's executive editorial director for decorating. Two dozen if you can swing it. "That way no one will feel like the 13th person with the odd plate who probably shouldn't be here."

"Nothing shows off food like a white plate," adds Jeanne Benedict, host of DIY Network's "Weekend Entertaining." "And we all know the better it looks, the better it tastes."

Dessert plates are a good place to toy with color, say our experts, if you're hue-inclined.

Flatware. "Flatware is more fun when it doesn't match," says Sharkey. Unearth your various inherited sets, bring on the fancy wedding-gift sets, and pair it all with a few sale sets from a discount store.

Glasses. "Find a glass that's all-purpose and inexpensive that you can use over and over and over," says Jen Aaronson, Martha Stewart Living's editorial director of food and entertaining. "I like a basic glass that doesn't have a stem for wine, cocktails, water. I have dozens that I bought at a restaurant supply store that I just keep in my basement and bring out when I'm entertaining."

Linens. Keep at least two dozen cloth napkins on hand, says Sharkey, who is partial to linen. "For me it's a luxury."

Napkins are a natural place to play with color and various prints, but Aaronson extols the virtue of white here, as well. "White's going to go with any tablecloth or place mats, and even if you have different kinds — some cotton, some linen, some embroidered — all white lets you mix and match them."

As for place mats versus tablecloths, it's a personal call. "Tablecloths are much more flexible because you're not boxed in by place mats," says Sharkey.

Then again, beautiful place mats can serve as decor all their own. Your call.


You've covered the basics, so mind the small details that make a big difference.

Serve it. "Have a lot of platters on hand," says Aaronson. "The easiest way to entertain is to do things family style, where you put everything out on the table for people to serve themselves. That means lots of platters and lots of bowls."

Shake it. "Everyone has that big ol' clunky pepper grinder," says Benedict. "But you can find really affordable, nice salt and pepper shakers that look great on a dining table." Pick up two or three sets so your guests don't have to keep reaching across each other.

Pour it. "A simple glass water pitcher — it could be your margarita pitcher, but you've filled it with water — is always nice on a table," says Benedict. As is a gravy boat — and not just for gravy. "They're really nice for salad dressings," Benedict says.


Now it's time to knock it out of the park.

Flowers. "Take your plates and linens to a florist and say, 'Here's what I'm looking for, I'd love your pro advice,' " suggests Benedict.

Candles. "Everything looks better candle-lit," says Sharkey. "But I do not like scented candles. It totally interferes with the food."

Seasonal touches. "Maybe you put a mini pumpkin on each plate and tie a cranberry bow on the stems," says Benedict. "Or roll your silverware in red napkins and tie a beautiful white bow around them."

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