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Decorating Basics for Holiday Parties: Three Top Secrets Caterers Already Know

Updated on July 23, 2009

Neat Party Stuff

Origami Holiday Decorations
Origami Holiday Decorations

Save money on decorating by using paper. It adds a persnoal touch and shows you went to alot of trouble to make everything perfect. It's also fun for kids!


1. Anchor the Serving Table(s) with a Centerpiece

The centerpiece(s) needs to be taller than the remainder of the items on the table if you are hosting a party where people will be grazing on finger foods. The word "centerpiece" can be deceiving. Your anchoring item(s) won't necessarily be in the center of the table. For instance, when using two short tables that have both been covered with a table cloth -you can place a centerpiece in the middle of each short table -essentially dividing the long table into thirds. Giving the table height is what all professional caterers do. Whether they stack books underneath an attractive cloth and position fruit or other goodies down the sides of the cloth mountain or they use a large floral bouquet -the object is to anchor the table with something tall to draw the eyes upward.

Unfortunately, many large centerpieces can be quite expensive. However, following are some attractive, cost-conscience options:

  • My personal favorite is to buy two ferns (look for medium to large size ferns that cascade a bit) and remove the ugly plastic hangers. Next buy two terra cotta pots that fit the ferns, the buy two slightly smaller or same-sized terra cotta pots. Turn the pots that contain nothing upside down on the table and place the other pot with the fern on top. There you have it -a pretty centerpiece that can be given away as a door prize at the end of the party. I usually light a few votives in small glass votive holders underneath to dress things up a bit. You can even pick some decorative red berries from the yard if you have them and stick them into the fern to dress it up a bit.
  • Take all of one color (silver or gold) candle stick -even if they don't match. Place them together at different heights in the middle of the table and put the same color candle on each. Using the same color candle will unite the differing styles of candle stick holders. If you few odd pair of candle sticks that aren't the right color (and you really don't care if they are painted on) then simple spray the with silver or gold spray paint so that they can be used as well. You can find all sorts of old brass candlesticks on the cheap at your local thrift stores.
  • Imitate the look of a maestro vase (the tall skinny glass vases you often sees at weddings) arrangement by using floral tape or green florists wire to secure some wet florists foam to the top of a tall candleholder. Gather some pretty foliage and/or flowers from your yard, or pay a visit to your local florist as well. Also purchase some fruit in colors that complement your theme. Next use florist picks to attach foliage, flowers, and sugared fruit to the florist foam. Be sure you use at least one type of cascading foliage that streams down from the arrangement...ivy is an excellent choice if you are on a budget. To sugar the fruit, simply paint it with egg white and dip it in sugar, then let it dry before handling.
  • If you've got the time and the fortitude, you're sure to bring smiles with a handbuilt gingerbread house standing tall in the middle of your table.

2. Use Kale

Garnish with kale. Kale can be purchased in the produce department at most grocery stores. If you don't see it for sale, ask the produce people if they sell it. Many keep a supply in back that they use to garnish their other fruits and vegetables. Just take one leaf at a time and cover your serving tray with it, then place the food item (i.e. a cheeseball) on top. You wouldn't believe how much more professional your table presentation will look with a little kale.

The Strawberry Fan
The Strawberry Fan

3. The Little Details

Take your time and pay attention to the tiniest of details. For instance, garnishing a dish with a strawberry fan takes very little time, in comparison to the impression it makes. Make one by holding the berry upside down and slicing it from side to side almost all the way through. Now use your gloved fingers to spread the strawberry out into a fan shape.

Add something adorable to the mix that people will ohh and ahh over. For instance, a tray full of penguin appetizers made from creamcheese, olives, and carrots makes a memorable treat. Or you might consider creating these precious mice out of chocolate kisses with a cute little sign that says "All through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse."

If you are using long fold out tables, go the trouble to purchase some white paper table clothes from the party store. If you throw parties on a regular basis you may opt to purchase some white table cloths from Wal-Mart. Why white? They can be bleached time and time again and they match anything. If you make your table pretty enough...It wont matter that the table clothes don't hang over the edge. Remember, you'll have a centerpiece drawing the eye upward.

Make the table pop using the flat marbles that can be purchased at the local craft store. They add a polka dot effect, give you a chance to build on your color theme, look great against a white table cloth, and are inexpensive. Beware of using these, however, if small children will be present at the party. They might look like candy and you do not want to tempt a child to put one I his or her mouth.


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