I’m on vacation this week in Paros, Greece, staying with friends at what is perhaps one of the loveliest villas I’ve ever seen. Our friends hired a local chef for the week and last night he prepared a veritable feast, including mussels in an ouzo broth, whole-grilled grouper, potatoes and roasted beets… and the list goes on. We sipped on rosé from local winery, Moraitis. The evening breeze was light and fresh, the boats were dancing in the bay under a slowly dimming sky, and the sound of the waves had a pleasant, Ambien-like effect. With delicious food, delightful company and conversation, and a magical setting, it was hard to want to get up from the table.
Earlier in the evening, the house managers set the dinner table for dinner. I walked past the table and couldn’t help but stop and admire it. It was simple. And in its simplicity it was absolutely beautiful.
As event planners, we strive to create stunning tablescapes for our clients. It’s our job, really. We deliberate over linens, consider glassware, choose the perfect baseplates and flatware. We make sure the napkin is cleverly folded and the menu card is properly placed. We spend hours upon hours working to create an impressive, eye-catching design.
But, as with everything else in event planning, we can easily lose sight of the purpose of the table. We work so hard to make it look impressive, that we forget what it is there for. It is there for the meal. And the meal is there for the guests around the table. And the guests are there for conversation and fellowship and enjoyment. The flowers may be beautiful, but it is the experience and memories made that are lasting. Each time I travel to Europe, I am reminded of that fact.
I have found that particularly in France, Spain, Italy… and now as I’ve learned, Greece… the meal is about the people. It is vehicle for sharing time together. It is never rushed and there is always dedicated time set aside for it each day. I’ve been hard pressed to find a “fast casual” restaurant on this island. Nothing is fast about meals here. It’s not about expediency, it’s about experience.
I’ve talked with more than one wedding client in the past who have said, “I want dinner to be as short as possible. I want everyone to dance.” I love dancing and agree that there should always be enough time for filling the dance floor during the event. And I definitely don’t think a dinner should drag on. I do feel, though, that dinner is an opportunity for tablemates to enjoy the food and engage in good conversation. Oftentimes, the guests have not seen each other in a long time, or perhaps they have just met and are enjoying getting to know each other. Why rush that?
So, next time you host a dinner party, consider how a simple table can be a vehicle for an enjoyable experience for guests. Don’t stress about the candles or the flatware. Just settle in, and create a memory with your friends and family. That’s what setting the table is all about.