Set the table for a formal Southern supper

with a dinner party master

Every occasion calls for something extra, whether it’s the flower arrangement in the center of the table, grandmother’s silver that’s been freshly polished or the family’s favorite pecan pie. The holidays are the perfect time for gathering friends and family around the table. Forget stress or an overblown budget, it’s all about pizzazz, creativity and the thrills of the moment this holiday season.The North State Journal gathered ideas and tips to help you host a party you’re sure to enjoy as much as your guests. The Myrtle Grove Plantation in Macclesfield has become one of the leading destinations in the East for dinner parties, supper clubs, book club luncheons, weddings and receptions, from 12 to 600. We spoke with owner Joe White, who opened the doors of his 1842 plantation to entertaining guests in 2006, on ways to make you and your holiday party shine.PreparationTo avoid becoming overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle that surround a party, start by making a list and figuring out your basic components: the date, invitees, budget and menu. Then make a list of the extras: the place cards, theme, floral arrangement, serving pieces, flatware, table linens and lighting.”You can’t do everything for a party all in one day, so pace yourself and take a few days of preparation to build up to the party,” said White.Menu”As a host, you don’t want to spend all your time in the kitchen,” said White. “If there are people coming to the party you don’t know as well, then stick to safe nutural menu items like a chicken dish rather than seafood.”Check your recipes for ingredients and make sure they are in season. Casseroles are a nice option that can be assembled a day in advance of the party.Table SettingHoliday dinner parties are the perfect time to bring out your linens and wedding china. How you’ve dressed the table becomes the wardrobe of the party. Depending upon the style of the host, table and party; tablecloths, table runners or linen placemats may dress the table. All linens should be graced with a good iron, some steam and a little starch to have the best appearance.Sterling silver is made to endure the decades and brings elegance with it wherever it goes. Often, the task of polishing the silver is known as the dreaded chore. However, it doesn’t have to be. Turn on the holiday music, grab those yellow gloves and polish in tune. Use a quality silver polish, rinse well and dry thoroughly. Air drying will result in spotting.”Your choice of menu will dictate what serving pieces you need,” said White. “If you need salad, bread and butter plates, or salt and pepper shakers. Special occasions may require more formal pieces. You can always go online and look up a table setting to see which pieces you need.”Always consider who your guests are — people accustomed to silver and fine china will be comfortable with those on the dinner table. Those who didn’t grow up around that may be uncomfortable and wondering what fork to use. You want all of your guests to be happy and relaxed at the party,” said White.Dinnerware and the abundance of choices for such can allow the host to have a dinner party with classic style, a modern mix, or splash of patterns for a twist. Wedding china, grandmother’s gravy boat and heirloom pieces of dinnerware can be used for the formal and traditional dinner party. Modern hosts may prefer more contemporary designs in dinnerware with the combination of black, white and gold colors. Vintage finds or complementary patterns allow for a colorful table full of imagination.”You can purposefully mix and match. You can have a different place setting at each plate to create something unique,” said White. “You can use pottery for serving bowls to have a very eclectic but attractive look.”Place cards and assigned seating tell everyone where to go and alleviate the awkwardness of finding a seat when you’re mixed with people you don’t know. The host and his or her significant other should sit at the head of the table on opposite ends. Traditional seating is done by placing a male next to a female and so forth. It is not required that couples sit beside one another, so feel free to mix up the seating so people can make new friends.CenterpiecesFlowers welcome guests into the home. The use of vases, tea kettles and even carved out pumpkins can be donned with flowers to make a centerpiece to your table. Nutcrackers, snowmen, reindeer and ornaments can be used for centerpieces if flowers are outside of the budget or you want something different.”For fall and holiday parties, use items from nature as your centerpiece such as pinecones. As a tip, place pinecones in a plastic bag in the freezer for 24 hours to rid the pinecones of any insects,” said White.Saying GraceDown South, meals are often blessed with ones gathering to bow their heads or hold hands around the table. If you have a Reverend in the family or joining you for the event, then he or she provides the blessing by default. However, kindly inform them upon arrival they will be expected to say grace. Otherwise it is the host or hostess of the evening affair.