Invite a few friends or family members over some fall night, and surprise them with your gorgeous table. Delicious food is most important, yes, but a beautiful, seasonally decorated dinner table sets the vibe for the evening. A few thoughtful touches can make whatever you're serving even more special. But don't go too crazy here. Hold off shelling out your dough on some Waterford crystal.
"Entertaining should be fun — for the host and the guests," says Jenny Steffens Hobick on her blog, jennysteffens.com. She's a home entertaining and lifestyle expert and owner of The Everyday Occasions Shop. Elaborate, expensive decor and fancy food aren't necessarily guarantees of a better time for all, she says. If you're running around the kitchen and too busy to spend time with your guests, it can feel awkward for them. Guests can feel pressured to alleviate your stress. A great party is whatever is easy for both the host and guests.
"I always recommend to entertain in a style that is well-suited to your personality," Hobick says. "Don't try to be a June Cleaver if you are a clearly a Lucille Ball. Go with what feels good to you. If that is burgers on the grill or a make-it-yourself pizza party, perfect!"
To start, choose one table component you absolutely love: a centerpiece idea, your new dishes, or a great piece of table linen. Showcase that part, and let the rest of your table support it. Decide which element of your table setting is going to be the bold, colorful, focal point so that you know to keep the rest of it in solid, neutral, muted tones, setting the background for the focal point.
Clothe the Table
Full-on tablecloths seem too formal and stuffy these days, but placemats can be kitschy. Find a happy medium with a table runner. You can improvise your own with some burlap, brown kraft paper, or a drapery panel folded in half, as Hobick suggests. Or buy something like this neutral pinstripe linen table runner. It will go with anything. (Buy it here)
Also, invest in a set of cloth napkins in a neutral, patterned or bold solid color like these stitched-edge, machine-washable cloth napkins in fall's burnt orange-red. The cloth napkins don't have to be expensive, yet they really class up the joint. (Buy it here)
Set the Mood with Warm Lighting
This should possibly be rule No. 1. In the way that location, location, location matters in real estate, in home entertaining, that repeatable rule would be lighting. As in mood lighting. Super bright, cool-toned, sterile light, especially from florescent bulbs, is just so clinical and institutional. You want to make guests feel all warm and cozy, not awkward and self-conscious. Twinkly lights are always nice if you can wrap them around some twigs in your centerpiece or something like that. But candles. That's where it's at. Do low-lying, wide tea candles, or tall, skinny candles so it doesn't block people from seeing each other across the table.
You can make DIY candle holders out of mini pumpkins too.
Say it with Serving Platters, Bowls, and Pitchers
If you're missing one of these already, you'll want them when you're entertaining. You can always ladle out the food for each plate straight from the pot on the stovetop or the dish in the oven, but sometimes that doesn't cut it. Like when you're serving salad, a nice wooden bowl is especially useful and attractive, like this black mango wood serving bowl. These kinds of bowls typically require hand-washing. (Buy it here)
You'll love having a nice serving platter showpiece, one that says "special occasion" but you can use it year-round, like this Towle Hammersmith Large Oval Platter. It's gorgeous, and you can serve it with almost any color scheme. (Buy it here)
And then you have your wine and such, but you'll need a water pitcher, and not a plastic one. This Dewdrop Seeded Pitcher by Abigail's strikes the right balance between casual and elegant. (Buy it here)
Gotta Have Good Soup Bowls
Autumn is when you start craving soup, stews, and chili again (not gazpacho!), so you'll need some good bowls, one for each guest at the table. These double-handled soup bowls come in red, orange, yellow, green, and white, and are especially good for heart soups and stews. (Buy it here)
Ah, the Centerpiece
Include something alive in the middle of your table: Seasonal plants, flowers, produce, herbs, or even twigs. For fall, it could be autumn leaves, gourds of various sizes and colors, or glasses full of whole nutmeg and cinnamon sticks with candles in the middle of each one, unified by a stretch of branches. You can make or buy something like this fall-themed burlap-Mason-jar set, and place some seasonal flowers or herbs in each jar. (Buy it here)
Amy Sowder is a New York City-based food and fitness writer who's also on Chowhound's editorial staff. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She's trying to like mushrooms. Ice cream is a strong motivation for her running habit. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.