At Your Service

Whether you are entertaining friends for a summer party or just planning dinner for the family, set up a lovely food service to make the meal extra special. Believe it or not, it’s remarkable easy to pull together a beautiful and dramatic service display in minutes. Here’s how …

Start with a Great Backdrop

One of the best spots to create a dynamite food service display in seconds is on your dining room buffet. Sadly, buffets are one of the most under-utilized pieces of furniture in our homes. I think that’s because we usually don’t have them tricked up and at the ready when we want to entertain, so setting them up seems like a huge hassle we don’t want to take on.

To remedy this problem, why not make staging your buffet one of your summer decorating projects? Begin by scrutinizing the wall behind the buffet. Can it use some great artwork? In my dining room, I have a sensational painting hanging behind my buffet that is so big it almost spans the buffet’s width. Its presence alone ramps up the look of the whole presentation, I think.

Try flanking either side of the buffet with matching lamps. Forget those wimpy buffet lamps of old and go for a larger, taller, unique pair that makes a statement. If your room has tall ceilings, like mine does, don’t be afraid to pick lamps that stretch toward the ceiling, like I did in my dining room.

Once these design cornerstones are in place, add a few dramatic accents you can leave on your buffet year-round, then spice up with seasonal décor as you like. For instance, you could include a gorgeous English footbath or hurricane or serving bowl in the foreground of your buffet display, then use this fetching container to hold seasonal treasures, like seashells in the summer and gourds in the fall. Could it get any simpler? Or, try this: Set the buffet as if you’re going to have a party that day, like I did in the photo above, taken during my Spring Open House. Use intriguing serving pieces to create an attractive display you can leave in place. Then, when you want to entertain, you just need to wash up the dishes and you’re already ready to go.  How easy is that?

Surprise Guest with an Unusual Serving Site

I really enjoy coming up with unconventional spots to serve food and drinks when I entertain.  It’s fun to see guests’ faces light up with delight when they are treated to an unexpected surprise. Since June is my absolute favorite month for entertaining outdoors, through the years I’ve done a lot of experimenting with ways to display appetizers, drinks and dinner on my screened porch and courtyard.

In the photo above, taken during my Spring Open House, I put an all-purpose black iron urn at the foot of the steps that lead from my porch to my courtyard, then topped it with a silver three-tiered server. The coffee service, displayed on the different levels of the server, suddenly went from looking like a functional necessity to artwork that brightened up this corner. Think about how you can do something similar in your home – put appetizers or drinks in a spot no one would suspect, turning it into a visually arresting display in the process.

When I entertain inside, especially if I’m having a big group that won’t fit at my dining room table, I like to create stations around my home where I can place drinks and appetizers, leaving my buffet open to serve the main course. One fun spot for a beverage service is on a small table placed in front of your hearth.

Invest in Versatile Serving Pieces

I think there are two keys to stress-free entertaining. One is to practice. The more you entertain, the easier it becomes because you find your own style and rhythm. The other key is to have the right serving tools at your fingertips. Through the years, I’ve collected the serving pieces I need to pull together a party in a snap – I just open my china hutch and find the right tools for the job.

If you don’t already have an assortment of serving pieces, I’d encourage you to start collecting them right away. Let friends and family know what kinds of pieces you’re looking for – chances are, they will be happy to have some ideas for birthday or holiday gifts.

Here is my list of must-have serving pieces when I entertain (you will find most of them in an instant at Nell Hill’s Online):

  • Multi-tiered servers. Whether they are tiered servers or multi-leveled plate stands, serving pieces that allow you to elevate your food selections are the key to creating a display packed with drama.
  • Cake plates. If you want to make anything look special, serve it on a cake plate. For even more drama, stack two or three cake plates on top of each other.
  • Platters. Whether they are filled with savory food or holding your silverware bundles, beautiful platters add to the elegance of your presentation.
  • Silver trays. I’m gaga over silver trays because they make everything look elegant. Use them to serve food, hold plates or corral glasses on the bar. They serve a million and one purposes and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.
  • Apothecary jars and hurricanes. These essential decorating tools are not only great accents for your displays, they can be used to help serve your meals as well.
  • Beverage urns and pitchers. I often keep a glass urn with a spigot on my dining room buffet to serve water, punch or tea. When I’m not entertaining, I fill it with treasures, like gourds.
  • Serving bowls. For added drama, put a serving bowl or two atop a cake plate or another riser.

Create a Dramatic Display with Visual Variety

Height adds drama, so I always set up serving areas using tools that allow me to take advantage of the vertical space in a room. On my courtyard, the sky was literally the limit, so for my Spring Open House, I created a drink service display using one of my favorite new accents: this metal planter that’s fitted with several leaf-shaped tiers. For this display, I rested wine glasses and an ice bucket on the leaves. I used a silver gallery tray to hold the wine. The live topiary next to the tray and the maidenhair fern in the tiered planter add to the garden ambiance of this outdoor bar, as does this beautiful figurine.

When you are selecting your serving pieces and accents for a display, pull together a mix of heights, styles and mediums. I love to pair elegant pieces with those that are more rustic, like the metal server and the crystal ice bucket in the display pictured here.

Bring a Theme to Life with Well Chosen Accents

Once you have your backdrop set on your buffet and have collected some versatile serving tools, you will be able to create a gorgeous food service in a snap. To inspire you, pick a theme and bring it to life, like I did on this side table in my dining room.  My theme was color inspired: blue and white. And, it was so, so easy to pull together. I created an attractive backdrop using inexpensive blue and white pottery and live plants.  The hurricane in the foreground added a flash of drama. When it was time to entertain, all I needed to insert were a few pretty serving pieces from my arsenal. I settled on a simple two-tiered server and a silver bowl, perfect for a hot dish. Snap! Done! So pretty and so simple.

Next Week … There is no place like a garden in June, is there? I’ll share some tips for making your outdoor space a restful retreat.

P.S. Don’t miss a bit of Nell Hill’s news – stay up to date on my favorite finds, new arrivals at the stores and all our special events by checking the Nell Hill’s Facebook page every day. You don’t have to have a Facebook page yourself to look in on the fun, but if you’re already on Facebook, “like” us today!