Service of Formal Entertaining: In Fashion or Wishful Thinking?

March 17th, 2022

Categories: Brides, Cooking, Entertaining, Formal Decor, Holidays, Manufacturing, Marketing, Retail, Tableware

We're breaking out of pandemic mode, some more gingerly than others, into unprecedented inflation, a zigzagging stock market with war on the wings. When, last week, I passed these Bloomingdale's windows dressed for spring I had, simultaneously, contradictory reactions. One was a flashback to a time people gave formal dinner parties not associated with Thanksgiving and other traditional gatherings--me included. Perhaps the store's tabletop team had hopes of inspiring Easter and Passover celebrations, the next ones up. St. Patrick's Day's corned beef and cabbage, as yummy as it is, doesn't evoke gold rimmed plates.

So who would buy these elegant dishes and wine glasses? Young people aren’t interested in things much less luxurious ones, and many older people, who might want them, already own them. Friends tell me that they have a hard time passing on family heirlooms to their offspring.

I asked Google for the items that top bridal registries and for March 2022 they are, in this order: Cookware (nonstick skillet, sauté pan, pasta pot, saucepan, etc.); Bakeware (roasting pan, casserole dish, baking sheets, loaf pans, muffin tins, etc.); Knives (serrated knife, paring knife, chef’s knife, etc.); Cutting boards; Dutch oven; Cast iron skillet; Stand mixer and Food processor.

I thought “that can’t be right! Not a plate?” and hit “more” which led me to Sarah Zlotnick’s article in brides.com, “The Ultimate Wedding Registry Checklist.” Under “Dining and Entertaining Registry Ideas” she lists: Everyday dishware (eight to 12 settings—dinner plates, dessert and/or salad plates, bowls); Everyday drinking glasses (eight to 12); Mugs (eight to 12); Flatware (eight to 12 settings); Steak knives (eight to 12); Wine glasses (red and white); Champagne flutes; Salad bowl and serving utensils

Serving bowls, platters, and trays jump in at the end and the Specialty glassware (margarita glasses, martini glasses, rocks glasses) and Colored Stemware.

I loved to dress a table because it was fun, I liked to look at something pretty and I felt that it said to my guests, “I wanted to honor/please you.” I think that I should invite over some friends and do a table up round even if I’m ordering in Chinese, Mexican or pizza. Maybe manufacturers should promote their products this way rather than in the same old same old. The market has been stagnant for them since well before the pandemic. I wonder if, like changing dress and skirt hem lengths, the fashion for formal entertaining will ever return just for the fun of it.

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16 Responses to “Service of Formal Entertaining: In Fashion or Wishful Thinking?”

  1. Anonymous Said:

    I love dressing up the table….even if we’re ordering pizza! My friends are special to me and it’s just another way of letting them know!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Anonymous,

    That’s the spirit!

  3. Eileen Dover Said:

    I love to throw a dinner party but it’s a lot of work. Between shopping, prepping, cleaning, etc. I tend to use festive paper products if having a crowd which hasn’t happened since pre-Covid. I dated a guy who was divorced and we would eat our takeout food on his Tiffany china using his fancy silverware. Since then, I use my “good stuff” for everyday and not saving just for special occasions. Also, I enjoy using my grandma’s plates, reminds me of her love!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Eileen,

    I remember how much work the dinner parties of yore were. I used to make a pork roast with sauce Robert from Julia Childs or a gigantic chicken pot pie–not sure whose recipe it was. It took all Saturday to cook and was gone from my guest’s plates in minutes.

    I’m over that. Have been for ages especially as I was spoiled by a husband who made spectacular meals so my culinary talents have rusted.

    I have neither the inspiration, the space nor the energy to go through all of it now. That doesn’t mean I can’t locate a wonderful tablecloth and chose some formal plates–mine or my grandmother’s–and shine the silver to set a pretty table. So who knows? I might just work on the logistics to have a takeout festival. Pizza on Royal Crown Derby anyone?

  5. JM Said:

    JM on Facebook: These windows are fabulous.

  6. Debbie Kundn Said:

    Debbie on Facebook: art in lifestyle. xo

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JM

    Do they inspire sales?

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Debbie,

    You create drama with your table settings that enhance your culinary skills. It’s always a joy to be included.

  9. Hussein Ahman-Uttah Said:

    Sadly there are a lot of boors out there who aren’t prepared to teach their children to live like this and do things in the right way.

    Or maybe we should be celebrating that there are enough people out there who ARE prepared to teach their children properly?

  10. ASK Said:

    I love my tableware, I love collecting it, I love polishing silver, and having once toiled in PR for the Bordeaux and Alsatian wine information bureaus, I have an array of crystal appropriate for anything from burgundy to riesling. I use it whenever I can, which is not too often lately, unfortunately. But, I am convinced all this will come back in fashion someday.

    And, no, I have not been recently released from a mental health “spa”…

  11. Martha T Takayama Said:

    Oh Jeannie, you make me nostalgic, even more for being a guest at other people’s dinner parties than my own. I have a small surfeit of fine china, including cake plates, some idiosyncratic tablecloths, sterling flatware, serving pieces and napkin rings and silver plate. Like your husband, my husband’s love and mastery of cooking has made feel as if I really am not a cook. I still like to bake but am living through a pandemic style wait for a stove since mine died months ago and the replacement seems like a mirage. Our dining room table is serving as my husband’s desk since we still barely go into our office because of fear of Covid. We really don’t invite visitors for the same reason. I would love to set a beautiful table, but it seems impossible at the moment. I also like the idea of takeout with luxury dishes and flatware. I find the rejection by the younger generation of anything aesthetic in part insensitive or dull rather than democratic or informal. I think it also in part an indication of a limited vision and incredible self-centeredness. Hence the obsession with destination weddings. I would welcome an invitation to an old-fashioned festive dinner party.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hussein,

    You have been to the same Thanksgiving dinners as I have that join delicious food with an elegant table setting. The children in that household know how to stage a stunning celebration.

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    In all my recent moves to smaller and smaller spaces I have kept a sinful amount of tableware and linens. I share your love of these things and although I haven’t used most in years now, when I come across them I’m happy.

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    We may all have identified the start of a trend or at least a desire for one. Who knows–some of the joy might splash on younger folks if they see or hear about dinner parties often enough. There is truth to the saying “Everything old is new again.”

  15. Kathleen Said:

    Like you and other writers love these special dinner arrangements and delicious menus. Many friends and even acquaintances want to give grandchildren and other younger friends wonderful silverware, china collections and lovely crystal stemware. Most of the younger folks don’t accept and want only pieces that can go into the dishwasher, which the treasures don’t. Not even antique or consignment stores take these because no one buys. So sad!

  16. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Kathleen,

    I guess the businesses that sold replacement china, silver and stemware are kaput. Wonder if any are dormant should there be a resurgence.

    What’s interesting is that the generations that turn up their noses at what you call antique treasures are the same ones leading initiatives to save the environment. Wonder if they are the same ones buying the fanciful plastic plates on which to place all those vegan meals?

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