Setting the (festive) table

With holiday feasts and nibbles around the corner, caterer Nikki Heckman and chef Matthias Bodnar of Bistro to Go offer tips on how to arrange a Christmas table for a sit-down dinner, and Marc Serrao of Oakmont Bakery shares ideas on how to set a cookie table for the swap party.

Christmas table for a sit-down meal
1. Holiday center pieces: Elegant bowls can be filled with pine cones or twigs with berries on them can be tied together with Christmas ribbons to spread an organic, eco-friendly cheer, but no kitschy trinkets please. Candles are also beautiful but avoid scented ones as you don’t want the candle aroma to interfere with the food.

2. Break out the festive china and silverware. When setting china and silverware always keep in mind the menu order and that you eat from the outside in. Start off by placing a festive charger if you have one. Then place the dinner plate on top of it. The salad plate goes on next. If your menu includes a soup course, set the bowl on top of the salad plate. On top of the soup bowl, lay a nicely folded linen napkin. Decorative napkin holders can be cute but with a full place setting they can be too much and take up room on the table when guests unfold the napkins. Place the dinner fork on the left-hand side closest to the plate and the salad fork to the left of the dinner fork because it’s the first fork used. Set the dinner knife to the right of the plate, followed by the salad knife and then the butter knife. All knives should be placed with the edge facing the plate. Position the soup spoon to the right of the knives. Place the dessert fork above and parallel to the plate directly on the tablecloth. Set the bread plate above the forks to the left of the plate.

3. Have specific glasses for wine and water. Arrange the glasses on the right, above the knives and spoons starting with the red wine glass closest to the plate, followed by the white wine glass and the water glass.

4. Meat is the star. Make a ham (or any other meat) platter with all its garnishes the centerpiece of the table with holiday decorations placed to its left and right. Bread rolls, butter and other sauces should also be placed on the table. Set the sides on a sideboard, passing them around and then placing them right back. Try to avoid heavy platters and bowls to pass around; remember that you can always refill.

5. Dessert time. Serve the dessert about 20 minutes after dinner is over, and the plates, crumbs and decorations have been cleared. That’s the time to bring out the coffee and after-dinner drinks, too. Assemble an assortment of pies, cakes and cookies in the middle of the table, making them the new centerpiece.

Cookie table for a swap party
1. Aim for many colors and textures. The more the merrier should be your slogan when setting up the cookie table. Cookies should be of various colors, textures, sizes and fillings. Offer the staples such as peanut-butter blossoms, chocolate-chip cookies, sugar cookies and mini lady locks, but don’t be afraid to serve sophisticated ones such as mini eclairs, mini cream puffs and mini cheesecake cookies.

2. Choose flavors and colors by the holiday. Populate the Thanksgiving cookie table with more pumpkin flavor varieties, the Christmas table with more peppermint and cranberry options, and the Easter one with creams and lighter concoctions. The same idea applies to color. Choose colored sugar finishes according to season.

3. Arrange them by category. Group cookies by color, texture, filled and unfilled cookies, and allergen-based varieties. It’s easier for guests to peruse and sample when same-type cookies are kept together. Don’t forget the label and name cards. Additional information, such as some of the ingredients or its history, never hurts.

4. It’s all about being beautiful. The presentation needs to be visually appealing and colorful, but don’t overdo it. Create different heights, levels and dimensions. Have lower tiers in the front of the table and use stands and boxes (drape the tablecloth over them to maintain color consistency) of different heights in the back of the table for elevation and depth. Stack dry cookies but avoid over-stacking jam-filled ones. Arrange the icing-covered ones flat on the bottom tier, otherwise things could turn messy.

5. Think of decorations and displays. Use tulle, mini pumpkins in the fall, and evergreen and Christmas balls in wintertime. Opt for eclectic displays such as clear plates, silver trays and stands, and showcase cookies in glass jars and clear bowls for an added effect.

6. To-go boxes. Send your guests home with leftover cookies. It makes for good hospitality.