Recapturing the art of Christmas entertaining

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Tips from NSCC Burridge tourism management faculty

By Carla Allen THE VANGUARD Planning on entertaining during the holidays? The first order of business is to get the numbers right. Phyllis LeBlanc, a faculty member of the NSCC Burridge tourism management program, has a handy way of estimating.

“I’m always concerned about the number of guests that are going to arrive because you never want to run short of anything. A rule of thumb that I always use for banquets or any catered events: whatever the number you think there’s going to be, add five per cent. That is for food and beverages and any kind of party favours,” she said.

Comfortable table settings are important as well says fellow faculty member, Tony Dorrian. “When you’re designing your holiday tabletop theme, your guest comes first. What’s going to be the most convenient for them? Make sure the table setting has everything they need and that they are going to be comfortable,” he said.

Shoulder-width is the rule and have everything within reach of their left or right hand. Avoid crowding and pay attention to simple details like having coffee cup handles at 4 o’clock, where a person naturally reaches, recommended Dorrian. “If you do a fair amount of entertaining it would be worth your while to invest in some really good linen. If you stick with neutral colours you can always change your accessories – your candles, a runner or different coloured flowers,” said LeBlanc.

The general message at Christmastime, says Dorrian, is to slow down our busy lives, do away with the dashboard dining and eating on the run. “Get away from the disposable napkins and the throw-away plates and sit down and have a relaxed meal with your guests while remembering the reason for the season,” he said.

Attached to that is the slow-food movement, nice meals with local products as much as possible, he added.

Preparing much of the meal in advance allows the host to enjoy the company.

Entertaining has become a lost art according to LeBlanc and Dorrian, with the younger generation unaware of etiquette and which fork to use.

Pauses between courses allow guests to talk to each other and for the meal to become an experience, not just the act of eating.

Budget minded tips include retaining disrupted sets. If only two goblets remain from six, use them for place settings at the end of the table. “Everything doesn’t have to match. Mix and match is okay as long as you have a consistent theme,” said LeBlanc. “Light and life” are important inclusions when designing a tabletop, pointed out Dorrian. “You should have some sort of subtle lighting on the table, like a candle, and some sort of living item like a sprig of holly,” he said.

Beachcombers can add their shells, branches, pinecones or bayberries to the table.

When a large centerpiece becomes overly dramatic, it’s wise to move it to the side of the table for comfort. Long tables should have long, low centerpieces so that guests can maintain eye contact with each other.

Some old centerpieces can be freshened up simply by replacing silk flowers and candles or by adding other accessories.

Dining arrangements for children often end up as an afterthought in large family gatherings, with youngsters shuffled off to a card table. “The kids should be made to feel just as special,” said Dorrian. “Look for durable, unbreakable mugs and plates, give them a playful focal point like Rudolph.

Last but not least, be a responsible host. Provide alternatives to alcoholic drinks. “It doesn’t have to be just pop or punch. White cranberry juice with a couple of cranberries in it finished off with sparkling clear soda makes a festive drink,” said Dorrian. “Recognize that as the host, you may be the designated driver,” finished LeBlanc.

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