Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
Dec 20, 2009 06:06 AM

I'm hosting Christmas - need help on serving etiquette

My mother in law openly voted us to host Christmas this year (yes, a bold, old-school Irish mom move), and I need some advice!

I love to cook, and food isn't the problem - it's serving it. We're hosting 12 adults and 4 little kids, and I'm troubled on how to serve and what to use. While I'm not "formal and traditional" by ANY means, we have a new awesome modern kitchen and living space and I don't want to chintz out either. Overall the family vibe is casual.

It will NOT be sit down, but buffet style - everything on the island and come and get it.

Can I use aluminum trays to serve the dishes? They seem so easy to stick in the oven and keep warm until serving. Is this ugly? Or do I use pyrex and cover with foil to keep warm? Or do I need to use actual serving plates?

Can I use the nice looking plastic dishes and utensils?

I WILL be using real glasses and nice plates for apps.

I welcome all opinions and advice! Thx.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. It’s not a matter of etiquette but of aesthetic. I guess I would prefer doing extra dishes and would serve things on serving dishes (and/or Pyrex) and would use the fine dinner plates and all the rest. Besises, the good stuff will go well with your, " awesome modern kitchen and living space".

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      I agree here......It's Christmas, go with the good stuff.....I'm sure that modern kitchen has a dishwasher that can handle most of the washing

    2. I'd go for the serving dishes, and just run an extra load of dishes that evening. As for fine dinner ware, again I'd go for your nice stuff, or at least your every day stuff (i.e. not paper or plastic). Twelve adults really isn't that many. If you are concerned about the kids and the nice dishes, you could get some nice festive plastic plates at a place like Pottery Barn just for them. And definitely use your normal utensils.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Cachetes

        OK, you're all right - serving dishes it is. I'll grab a few extra white plates/dishes from ikea or home goods this week. and I LOVE the idea of fun kids plates....I have never done this before so I'm probably making a bigger deal of things then I should.

        Thx all, happy holidays!

        1. re: heidemarie

          It sounds like you've got everything under control. You and your family are going to have a lovely holiday!

          1. re: heidemarie

            Pottery Barn Kids usually has really cute kids plates. I'm sure Target would as well.

        2. Definitely use your pretty plates and serving dishes. It's the occasion for it, and it makes all your guests feel special. Rally everyone together at the end to help wash and dry--especially after you made all that beautiful food!! Go all the way with some candles and tiny jars of flowers mixed up with pine boughs on table--your Christmas tree guy will give clippings away for free usually. If you have a little table, set it for the kids. They love having a specific place to go and eat that is just for them, and make their table beautiful too with easy things like a bowl of ornaments or a teeny candy cane with a bow around it on every plate. Little kids struggle holding a plate on a lap, and it's easier for parents as well, not having to juggle two plates. If you need extra glasses, either encourage people to hold on to the first go round, or IKEA has glasses for super prices. (if you can stand the crowds and there is one close by.)
          Have a wonderful holiday! Faye (of)

          1 Reply
          1. re: fayehess

            Not everyone likes having guests wash up after the meal - it can mean breakage if they are a bit in their cups, and it definitely spoils the mood. I'd rather do the washing up the day after, and I don't even have a dishwasher. Just get everything cleared away.

          2. This isn't a slam to them at all, because they're really great hosts, but some relatives with a brand new $3m home and the most fabulous kitchen, complete with two dishwashers, enormous Wolf range, several ovens, etc., uses plastic plates and cutlery to serve at big dinners. it's always a really big crowd when I've been there, maybe they don't have that many dishes and don't want to buy any more, but it does seem a little odd to be serving yourself on this extreme high-end marble island or countertop onto a foam or plastic plate. So I guess I'd have to say, if possible, do what Sam, fourunder, etc suggest and use the good stuff!

            Also, no matter what they say, if you use one of the enzyme-based dishwasher detergents rather than the chlorine-based, and run the gentle cycle, making sure the delicate stuff is stable and not going to knock into anything else, you can use your dishwasher. If possible, bypass the dry cycle- it's pretty hot.

            But whatever you decide, it'll be great. Nothing wrong with your etiquitte skills at all!

            1 Reply
            1. re: EWSflash

              Oops, never mind that second part of my previous post...

            2. 100% on the nice china, flatware and drink glasses for the adults, for kids that are younger than 10 you ‘can’ give them plastic dishes so you don’t have any thing destroyed.

              Since it’s buffet service than I would set up a buffet with heated chaffing dishes to keep the hot foods hot, more than likely people will be returning for seconds and luke warm food is never as good as hot. Serving dishes are used on to hold warm food on a table not in a buffet line.

              Cold items should be plated in the most ascetically pleasing way on nice buffet service dishes, if those items need to be chilled place on ice. Proper temperature of food is very important to how it tastes.

              8 Replies
              1. re: RetiredChef


                This is good advice regarding the proper temperature to serve food, however, unless someone has some elegant buffet servers/chafing dishes.....those cheapo wire ones can really diminish all the hard work and effort put into preparing the meal...also, depending on what is served, some items simply do not hold up well under Sterno heat, e.g., Alfredo Sauce. Dishes as such become pasty and like glue pasta.

                When family and friends get their second wind for more food @ the holiday meals in our home, no one ever complains about a quick reheat in the microwave...

                Just something to consider.

                1. re: fourunder

                  I have to say that for all but the dressiest occasions. I really disagree with the wire ones "diminishing" the meal. For most families, this is a pretty good solution. If you want fancy ones, you can buy those, but you had better plan on using them again. If you were hosting a wedding, I would agree, but for a family with a "casual vibe"? I don't think this is something she needs to worry about. I would much rather have a well-thought out buffet like this than one served in the fanciest china serving platters in which the food was allowed to stand out at improper temperatures for hours.

                  As for the food, not all food is suited to this. Pasta dishes, rice dishes, chicken or pork or ham with a sauce, grilled veggies, casseroles -- these all lend themselves to this presentation. Definitely not a beef roast or steak or roast lamb, I agree, so that needs to be served when cooked. But she can definitely use her good china and table linens to dress it up.

                2. re: RetiredChef

                  Do people even have nice china anymore? Most younger people I know don't have a set of 12 nice dishes. I agree that everyone should get real dishes that match, but no need to spend tons of money on them. In a casual family vibe, I think there's even less a need to buy/use the good stuff.

                  1. re: queencru

                    When DO you use the good stuff?

                    1. re: Cathy

                      All I was trying to say was that some people don't have the good stuff at all, or they don't have enough of the good stuff. If you only have 8 good settings, then it's better to use something that all matches and isn't the "good" stuff than 8 of the good stuff and 4 of the regular stuff.

                      1. re: queencru

                        i don't think it's such a big deal if you have a large family group and have mismatched plates/flatware, etc. i have seen big table settings where everything was mismatched (including linen napkins and even the chairs were from several different sets, with a few antique-type oddballs) where it was just charming. the key is to pull everything together with some flowers or decorations--a color or a place-setting garnish or something. no biggie if cousin irma has bone china and great auntie june has a 60 cent green glass ikea plate, the focus is on the togetherness, and the great food of course ;-P

                        the op should not have to worry about spending money and dashing about getting matching flatware sets. you can always ask a family member who is coming anyway to loan some dessert forks or some big serving platters, i'm sure that older relatives will be happy to pitch in. . .

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          I agree, You host a large gathering, We're not obliged to host large groups of state, come on- my fallback is the Cinga speckleware, works for kids, and frankly it's really festive. There's also a lot of plasticware that looks pretty good.

                      2. re: Cathy

                        Everytime we host company and for special family events. I have 4 complete sets of fine china or porcelain dinner ware and two sets of everyday dishes. None of them were bought at full price. Ebay, auctions, estate sales, tag sales, Goodwill, etc all helped to supply the dishware. I honestly believe that if you are going to spend all day or multiple days cooking your heart out, YOU deserve to use the good dishes.

                        You eat with your eyes as well as with your mouth and a beautifully laid table, buffet etc only makes it that much more special. I do not mean formal. Stuffy finger bowls and 14 pieces of silverware are a thing of the past in my world. I mean a well thought out scheme, fitting the event.

                        Rustic ironstone, country baskets, pottery platters, casual wine goblets, country woven clothes can be just a lovely as fine Irish linen, sterling flatware and crystal classware.

                        A well laid table is not one that is too fancy, but one that shows thought and consideration to comfort, aesthetics, your guests, the food, etc.

                        I vote for using nice stuff. I also believe you can set a half way decent buffet using wire chafing dishes, but I would personally rent some nicer chafing dishes from a party rental place for a few bucks. For that matter, you can rent dishes, glassware, flatware etc, I have rented glassware for many events, and the nice thing is, you don't wash, just rinse.