Service of Entertaining: Industry Guru Shares Tops in Table Décor

June 13th, 2016

Categories: Entertaining, Gifts, Tableware

F & P kitchen


I love to entertain though time and life get in the way so I don’t do it as often as I once did.  One of the most fun parts is to dress my table. Boy am I off trend!

Allison Zisko, tabletop editor at the business magazine HFN, told International Furnishings and Design Association members and guests how folks are entertaining these days and what products they are using to do it. We met in a perfect spot: The month-old Fisher & Paykel Experience Center [photo above] in the Architect’s and Designer’s Building in NYC. 

The venue set the stage. We were surrounded by sleek, high end induction cooktops, convection wall ovens, refrigerators and DishDrawers in a creatively architected space designed to show off the products and welcome visitors. And there was a bonus: We were greeted by Fisher & Paykel’s Paula Cecere Smith who is more than the showroom’s design and architecture manager; she’s also a pro when it comes to entertaining. Her sidekick, executive chef Tagere Southwell, always surprises with imaginative and scrumptious treats–miniature mouthfuls of perfect size made on the spot. She didn’t disappoint.

Paula Smith, Fisher & Paykel design & architect manager

Paula Smith, Fisher & Paykel design & architect manager

If you’re looking for a hostess or wedding gift or to throw your own party and want to add something new to your table, read on. 

We clearly entertain as we dress–informally.

OUT: cups and saucers and tables set with fine porcelain and silver.


  • Of all categories, beverage and barware sell best i.e. decanters and glasses for specialty drinks. Zisko showed us a whisky glass with a hole to hold a cigar! Cutware, if any, is minimal; glassware is clear and contemporary, dishwasher safe, chip and shatter resistant.
  • Melamine [high end plastic] that sports formal patterns for both in and outdoors: You may grill  or order out but you want to serve a hot dog or pizza on something pretty that’s not paper.
  • As beer styles trend so do different shapes and sizes of glasses to hold ale, stout, larger etc; the same with whiskey.
  • Single bowl meals are big, hence, bowls to house them.
  • Mugs generate huge business.
  • White dishes represent the bulk of sales.
  • Gold finish has outpaced platinum for borders and rim decoration as well as flatware. Copper–warm and rustic–is popular.
  • Gray pops up everywhere in homes including on the table.
  • Farm-to-table influence appears in rustic, artisanal style products.
  • Pieces feature mixed materials such as glass or metal with wood and metal with concrete.
  • Customized tableware—monograms are popular.
  • Manufacturers now pre-mix patterns and sell them in boxes because customers aren’t comfortable doing the coordinating.
  • The number one bridal registry gift is a KitchenAid mixer, as much a status symbol to display on a counter as an appliance for bakers and ice cream makers. Zisko says when not in use the mixer often serves double duty to hold fruit and even mail.

On Zisko’s radar:

  • Products made of cork.
  • Mugs decorated with recipes.
  • Glasses with “Mr.” and “Mrs.” on them.IFDA Fisher Paykel event screen turned

She reported the big news at tabletop market this year was trend-setting 81-year old Michael Fina’s decision to close its 5th Avenue store. There it sold china, glassware, cutlery and jewelry. It is now an online-only retailer partnering with Amazon for distribution.

If you own formal dinnerware, do you use it? Do you like to dress a table or consider it a waste of time? Have you changed the way and place you entertain? Is it easy or difficult these days to find perfect gifts for people who still throw dinners and parties?

 Easter table 2016

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14 Responses to “Service of Entertaining: Industry Guru Shares Tops in Table Décor”

  1. hb Said:

    I’m afraid I’m out of sync. I prefer the formal to the informal.

    Like me, you have probably been to business meetings when the leader has no agenda. They tend to wander around “in the thicket,” and nothing much gets done. I find formal living and entertaining is like having an agenda in one’s life. One is more restrained, disciplined and focused in what one does, and one accomplishes much more from the improved quality of dinner conversations to the collective positive experience of participants. Having a formal dinner table which is gracious, orderly and elegant in its symmetry adds to the effect. However, I’ll readily admit that formal living is highly labor intensive, time consuming and far more expensive. It is increasingly an impractical alternative.

    Therefore, I accept the inevitability that the casual chaos of informality is here to stay and applaud the efforts some forward thinkers such as you describe are making to at least try to dress it up with a touch of charm and grace.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Good pun! Sync/sink…a crucial element when entertaining formally or informally.

    I am not sure that formal entertaining is more expensive if you already own the necessary tableware as whatever you choose to serve costs plenty these days especially if you don’t live near a Costco, Trader Joe, Sam’s Club or other discount operation.

    Even plastic dishes need to be washed though if your dishes are vintage porcelain and are decorated with gold you’ll need to use the sync–I mean sink–and not the dishwasher or the trim will fade so you pay in time for that nod to formality.

    I stopped using crystal wine goblets years ago as I didn’t want to worry about hot water breaking my wine glasses. I don’t even know where they are or if I even still have them. At one time they were de rigueur.

    You still need to plan if you’re serving burgers or chicken pot pie so you don’t learn last minute that you ran out of Ketchup or flour to make the crust and if you’re having over friends who like faux sugar in their coffee, you want to remember to buy some.

    I think a pretty table tells guests “I made an effort for you.” It doesn’t take long to pull out a pretty napkin and toss it in a fun napkin ring. [I like to iron and napkins are so easy and quick.] In winter candles are especially wonderful.

    A luncheon, dinner or party invitation is an honor and a treat. Not dressing the table is similar to handing someone a fabulous birthday gift that isn’t wrapped. The gift is no less terrific without paper and ribbon, but even nicer with.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    I ignore trends, as they often trip up common sense, and I am unwilling to spend a fortune in a pursuit meant to fill a marketer’s purse. Money is best spent in the interest of pleasing stomachs, not eyes!

    This is not to suggest insulting guests with ugly and chipped tableware, mine is an ancient workaday Lenox whose pattern is probably extinct. It been old enough to vote for many years.

    When it comes to wedding gifts, the goal should be to make recipients happy, so, especially if not familiar with preferences, picking something out of the wedding registry is best. If you seek applause, send as many dinner plates as you can afford. These items are the most welcome. Avoid knives. Someone is bound to loudly guess they will be used for evil purposes later on. Experience speaks.

    Sadly, the number of specialty stores where one finds unique house gifts are vanishing as fast as threatened wildlife. Only two favorites remaining bear the slightest resemblance to former haunts. None have anything near the inventory.

    Also possible, the art of entertaining may be following the path of the fading gorilla. Entertaining is out and meeting at various restaurants is in. No agonizing over the menu, and no dishes to wash. That should make at least one industry happy!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m with you re. blindly following many trends: I vividly remember reading, when a young bride, that one-course meals were “IN.” It irritated me that I was supposed to produce a one course meal because somebody thought so and I’d make a point of serving several. It didn’t occur to me then that someone who manufactured baking dishes for this purpose had twisted the arm of a chef to make recipes for this kitchen accessory.

    On the other hand, I recall reading recipes in a now defunct food magazine that called for stirring the strawberries in some kind of sauce every few hours left in the sun over three days thinking, “WHO HAS TIME FOR THIS?” and “HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU WILL HAVE SUN FOR THREE DAYS IN A ROW?” The editors hadn’t caught on that increasing numbers of women worked–missing that trend was for them a mistake.

    Your experience with specialty stores that carry table and serving goodies and gifts matches what Michael Fina decided to do: Close its store. Rent, insurance, labor and other expenses are killers in a rapidly changing market. I envision management at so many businesses today feeling as though they are spinning like the child in a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

    The option of meeting at a restaurant works well especially if you are all going Dutch treat and have separate checks. I can entertain four or five people at home for far less than if I invite friends to a restaurant [especially if several drinks and bottles of wine are involved] and I find restaurant food at holiday time is often frozen weeks before and revived to serve a crowd.

  5. CG Said:

    I’m attending a bridal shower next month for a 30-something-year-old first-time bride. She registered her “wish list” at several stores, so by looking at her registry I was able to get an idea of her taste. I was surprised at how formal her choices were: Waterford cut crystal stemware and barware, Wedgwood china, cloth napkins and tablecloths. It was the type of stuff I wanted–and received and used–40 years ago when I was a young bride.

    I asked the registry consultant who helped me purchase one of the bride’s gift options several questions. I wanted to know whether this bride’s registry choices were typical, as it relates to the degree of formality. She said she has handled bridal registries in eight different stores and her experience has taught her that a bride’s degree of formality is very regional. This can be true even when geographic areas are separated by a short distance. For example, the degree of formality can vary dramatically from the North Shore of Long Island to the South Shore.

    P.S. Anyone interested in a service for 12 of Wedgwood “Runnymeade” fine china and Lenox gold-rimmed crystal stemware? I haven’t used the stuff in decades and want to get rid of it. I prefer more casual entertaining these days.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your P.S. made me giggle–given the bride’s expectations to entertain formally or maybe to fill a cabinet with what she considers are pretty things! Your forgoing your fine china and stemware is like my passing on my Baccarat crystal wine glasses. I admit to using my grandmother’s gold rimmed dinnerware for Christmas and Easter–I like the idea that I am touching and using something my mother and grandmother touched. And it’s fun to decorate the table with more contemporary accents. I like the diversity. And I still love the colors–blue and red like many of my rugs–of my Royal Crown Derby fine china. The pattern is very simple–only on the rim. I’m amazed that my taste hasn’t changed about the plates in all this time.

    The topic of regions and preferences regarding formality came up in the Q and A last week. No surprise we heard that in general the south is more formal than the north though as you pointed out, regional preferences matter: Parts of the south may be less formal than sections of the north. I haven’t looked at bridal magazines lately as these would give us hints of bridal fashions and how these reflect formality or informality. It would also be interesting to know how the demographic of the bridal magazine or web/blog readership has–or hasn’t–changed over years.

    It’s hard to tell if “your” bride is the exception that proves the rule or if this is yet another example of a successful business keeping to its traditional last and at the same time, nodding in a few instances/styles to those with more casual, contemporary taste.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    Jeannie, your post amused me, but also left me nostalgic and slightly wistful. I have entertained, but never on as large a scale for sit-down dinners, or with your ease.

    I am relatively obsolete because I use Spode stoneware (blue and white), minimalist and traditional stainless steel flatware, a very simple sterling bread dish, English laminated place mats most of the time. However, I am a New Englander.

    I have and use for more special occasions fine China which although bought long ago is all white and in a simple, timeless unfluted pattern. Occasionally I mix smaller pieces or serving pieces in other patterns. Being clumsy I don’t have much crystal bar ware and use thick French glassware for everyday.

    My only stab at modernity has been Alessi trays! I love sterling and foolishly use the flatware too infrequently. Gold and platinum are not of great interest. Grey is morose on the table.

    Plastic dishes are easier to balance than paper. Gimmicky glasses seem silly and not really functional but do have some inherited tall monogrammed ones. I prefer cups to mugs, and like demitasse in a small cup. Both keep beverages warm.

    Since my household is half-Japanese I have separate dishes, rice bowls, soup-bowls, teacups and chopsticks depending on the menu and my husband’s wishes!

    After reading a book called “Everything’s so Simple” by Danuza Leao, a cosmopolitan Brazilian wife, model, socialite, journalist, writer, actress, I have tried to simplify many activities and even wardrobe elements, It has always been a little bit iffy to want only that which is of the moment, but we all have to adapt to the passage of time for ourselves and the world around us.

    Gifts especially for brides and hostesses should always reflect the recipients taste and wishes!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I have always loved Spode stoneware–blue and white a favorite combination. And simplicity is best.

    I may at one time have given formal dinner parties but not recently! I have more room to entertain at the house and have taken to serving even Thanksgiving dinner buffet style. People get to take as little or as much of the various sides as they want–same with turkey–and we then sit down to a table that I’ve dressed for the occasion. We’re not even dressed up as we once were! Reminds me of a mother dressed in jeans and sweatshirt whose little girl has on an adorable dress with tiny, fabulous shoes and coordinated tights. The table is the little girl.

    I gave my nephew a stunning plastic serving tray with a bold coral pattern. He throws big pool parties and serves steaks and scallops and all sorts of goodies and I thought that a plastic piece like this could take the punishment of serving outdoors, be safe for bare feet should it fall and meanwhile, look fun.

    I’m a mug person. For company I use my espresso cups and saucers because I think that they are so pretty and because I don’t have the patience to use them everyday.

  9. jbs Said:

    I have only used my formal dishes twice or maybe three times. If people come in jeans (and most of my friends do), then I can’t see getting out my good dishes. I have three sets of dishes (including the formal set) and I use the set in-between my regular dishes and my formal dishes occasionally, not when it is just my family except on a holiday, then they get the second best set.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I bet it would be fun to use your best dishes even if your friends are wearing jeans! You go to the trouble of making or buying and then serving them something to eat. Seems a shame that the good dishes don’t get to see the light of day more often.

    I have some cheerful accent pieces that I’ve bought at craft fairs that I insert with the more traditional dishes and my sister has given me wonderful dessert plates with all sorts of pretty motifs that I love to use. I don’t look to achieve a “matchy-matchy” effect.

  11. Rose Gilbert Said:

    Great report, dear Jeanne! I was there, taking notes, too, but am glad to have your eye-full, as well.

    My take-away: informality breeds contempt for many of the more gracious aspects of being human. Fine china, gleaming silver, crisp linens, glowing candles elevate both the mood and the conversation around any table, I’m convinced. Dining elegantly (never mind what’s served) is comparable to fine art and good music as a civilizing force.

    Full disclosure: I don’t always bring out the sterling and Rosenthal, but those candles get lit every night and paper napkins stay in the kitchen.

    Call me old-fashioned, but do call me to dinner at a pretty, well-set table!

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’d love to know what you heard/cover that I didn’t. Attending events like this can be much like being a witness at an accident: Each sees/hears something different!

    I’m with you about a pretty table and fabric napkins. There are plenty of easy-care ways to dress a table. Quilted table mats don’t need to be ironed. I prefer to touch cotton over synthetics but for those who don’t mind the latter, there are lots of no-iron napkin choices. And napkin rings are such fun. I bought some favorites at a Paris flea market. They were meant to hold draperies, but that’s not what they hold chez moi!

    People light candles all over the house yet forget how they cheer a dining table. The only caveat: I don’t think that scented candles mix with food any more than my favorite flowers–freesia–do.

  13. Rose Hittmeyer Said:

    I live at the beach and find I entertain formally in the winter (and some holidays), use my linen napkins & table cloths and fine (inherited) china and glassware with flowers & candles.
    In the summer I use the fun, informal, bright-colored stuff and use lights instead of flowers both inside the apartment, outside on the terrace and near the pool. It satisfies both creative styles!
    Sorry I missed the event. I was in Norway and was lucky enough to be invited to meals at several Norwegian artist’s homes. They set lovely Farmhouse-style tables. Highlighted by a drinking glass full of wild flowers and candles either floating in a water glass or in a tall candle holder.

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I can picture the tables you describe–yours and those of your Norwegian artist friends. Wonderful. Each says, “I welcome you and am thrilled you’re here.” I get the feeling that your creativity makes your guests smile, regardless of season. I have never been to Norway–always wanted to go. I can so easily picture those farmhouse tables.

    I was once invited to an impromptu dinner by a German nurse we’d just met, who lived and worked in a Turkish town. It was many years ago and yet I remember the atmosphere she created with candles and Turkish textiles. Combined with the delicious food she prepared, it was a memorable evening.

    I can’t imagine having someone over for lunch or dinner and not adding something fun or pretty or seasonal to dress a table.

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