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Party 101: A Long Table

Tips for a large sit-down dinner

The Challenge: You want to have twenty friends over for a sit-down dinner. There’s no room inside the house that is big enough to seat everyone, and anyway it’s summer, so who wants to be inside? Added challenge: You want it to look nice. That means no paper/plastic, and an overall cohesive look.

The Solution: The long outdoor table. A long table guarantees an instant “wow factor” as you enter the room (or yard), and it’s easier than you think it pull it off, without breaking the bank. Here are my tips.

Tips for setting an elegant long table and (mostly) using what you already have on hand:

  1. Tables – Push together as many six-foot folding tables as you need to seat your crowd. As you consider where to put the chairs, watch for where the legs (table legs and human legs) will hit, to make sure no one feels they need an upgrade to Business Class. 
  2. Tablecloth – You may find yourself in a situation where you are putting three or four tables together, but you do not have that many matching tablecloths. Here’s an idea. I often mix and match white tablecloths as the base layer, which means I can use nice linen and cotton fabrics (versus disposables) and use what I have, rather than shopping for an event. Then, I drape a long runner across all the tables. A colorful runner will visually tie the tables together and add some drama. Both the runners in these photos (mustard yellow and striped) are from Etsy.
  1. Centerpiece – For a long table, add flowers every four feet or so. If you don’t have enough of the same vase, consider large Ball jars. (Half-gallon size is sturdy enough to hold sunflowers.) Adding lights or bunting overhead is another dimension that will delight the eyes and define the outdoor “room” with even more visual interest.
  2. Glasses – You may not have two dozen glasses that match, but you probably have some canning jars in the basement, and a friend with a dozen or two that you can borrow. I often use Ball jars. (Jam size is great for water glasses.)
  1. Bamboo or Palm Plates – You’re setting a beautiful table, and you don’t have a large enough set of plates and bowls. Also, you don’t want to use paper plates. These plates are compostable, and quite sturdy! I have served everything from salad to stew on these with great success. 
  2. Flatware – Mix and match whatever silverware you have. Why not?
  1. Chairs – Mix and match chairs. (Tip: Add visual interest by alternating chairs versus grouping them by type.)
  2. Cloth Napkins – If you do not have enough napkins of one color, and do not want to invest in them, use two sets. (With this mustard runner, I used pink and red napkins.) Why not? Who said they all have to be the same color?