How to Speak Southern

Entertain Like a Pro: Setting a Southern Table

April 9, 2014

The cornerstone of what defines a Southern woman is the ability to entertain — the gift to welcome guests into your home and make them feel comfortable, confident and refined, all the while serving unbelievably delicious food and a constant flow of drinks so they leave happy, full and drunk. This, my friends, is the art of being a perfect hostess.

Being the perfect hostess is so important. I strive to be one, but often my anxiety and OCD get in the way, followed by being overserved by myself, the hostess. It’s an interesting thing to watch. Regardless of my inability to master this art, it never hurts to try, and try we must.

The art of being a perfect hostess, begins, no doubt, with setting the stage for a terrific party, and nothing sets the stage better than a beautiful table. A beautiful table can be constructed many ways, but there are a few steadfast elements that every table must offer to augment the party and, ultimately, solidify your position as the hostess with the mostest. And Southern woman extraordinaire.

Let’s discuss.

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The first thing every table setting must have is a flower arrangement of some sort. As stated previously, I prefer lower arrangements for home entertaining because they are less obtrusive and ostentatious, but large flower arrangements can be amazing in their own right, too. Here I used a large square glass vase and shortened the tulip stems to create a snazzy display. To make the tulips stand at attention during their party duty, I put pieces of clear tape across opposite ends of the vase, creating a grid of sorts to help hold their little heads up.  It’s a great trick I learned from Martha Stewart years ago. I’m not kidding, I used to watch her as a child. Explains a lot, actually. I should’ve taken pictures of this but didn’t, sorry, so just leave your questions in the comments section if you have any… 

I also used small pewter mint julep cups for a little arrangement of roses — this is an easy trick to do all over your house, regardless if you have mint julep cups or not. Just use a pretty glass cup or mason jar and arrange a few flowers in the container for display in a bathroom, on a bedside table or on a barcart — anywhere that needs a little surprise color and happiness. This is also very cost-effective because you can buy one bunch of flowers and display it all over the house. Perf.

Another recommendation to keep flower costs down is to buy whatever type of flower is in season as they are usually cheaper and available in larger amounts. Flowers can get expensive so quickly — $50 for two dozen roses? WTF? — so it’s important to know your flower budget ahead of time and stick with it.

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The second ingredient for a perfect tablescape — I despise when Sandra Lee uses that word, but it really captures what I’m trying to say here so what the hell — is an illumination element. Here I have used three different types of candles — mercury tea lights, classic sterling candlesticks and contemporary glass holders — to add height and interest to the table. Candlelight is the best light, second only to the first break of dawn — I’m very light-sensitive and appreciate good lighting — and makes everyone infinitely more sexy under its flickering beams, therefore every party must have candlelight. Turn off the overheads and bring your sexy back, my perfect hostesses (or hosts!) to-be.

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Using a variety of serving pieces is another key to a great table. Mixing regular silver platters with cake stands — used here for some pretty veggies — with other crystal and non-formal pieces makes for a gathered, collected look. You don’t always have to use just sterling — mix it up with integrating glassware and gold pieces to achieve a table that Southern Living would be proud of.

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Lastly, make sure you put the plates, utensils and napkins somewhere near the table, but not on the table. This may seem a bit obvious, but there really is nothing worse than a major traffic jam in the buffet line because your slow neighbor is taking his sweet time balancing his plate, fork and bourbon drink when you are trying to get your grub on. Just sayin’. Separate the eating accoutrement from the actual food itself and your table will retain its beauty and ability to conduct traffic.

While on the subject of food utensils, it’s always a good idea to prepare foods that don’t require forks, knives or spoons. Everyone loves a good amuse-bouche, so save yourself the annoying dishwashing later and make everything pop-in-your-mouth-able. A good hostess should entertain their guests, not clean during the entire party.

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Now that you are properly equipped with the tools to create a perfect tablescape — grrr Sandra Lee why did you put that damn word in my head — you should pour yourself a cocktail for a job well done. You deserve it.

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4 Comments

  • Reply Aunt Deb April 9, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Beautiful! Now I know who will be in charge at Christmas!

    • Reply Anna April 10, 2014 at 11:17 am

      Haha I can handle the table if you do the cooking!

  • Reply Reston April 9, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Love the tall glass candle holders on the kitchen table and on the sideboard. Where did you get both sets of them? I would love them for my kitchen table.
    Also would love to see a demonstration of the taping in the flower vase.

    Can’t wait to use a less formal version of a “tablescape” this Sunday for a Masters viewing party!

    • Reply Anna April 10, 2014 at 7:25 am

      Thank you! I got the glass candleholders on the table from Target and the glass hurricanes were wedding gifts from Pottery Barn. I will work on a How-To for the flower vase — I’ll get ol’ Wilson to snap the photos.

      Hope you have a great time at the party!!

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