If you’ve hosted tea parties in the past, you’ll be aware of how much fun they can be. A group of people gathered together, catching up, nibbling on food and drinking cups of tea. It sounds wonderful to me!
If you’re hosting a large event in particular, a feast table is the perfect way to entertain. Buffet style eating doesn’t have to be inelegant, but offers a convenient and relaxed alternative style of eating that guests will love.
There are elements of the tea party that can be a bit of a drag. The preparation that happens before the event is often tiresome and long-winded — especially so if you have a traditional sit-down tea party. Between making sure the table setting is just right, chasing down last minute RSVPs, and baking up a storm, you may find yourself wondering why you wanted to host in the first place. Let alone all the washing up of crockery once the event is finished!
Instead, let’s talk about a style of tea party entertainment that has grown in popularity in the last few years. You’ve probably seen the photos on your social media, of brown paper laid on tables laden with an abundance of food. It’s a rustic and beautiful way of presenting your food to your guests, and it’s surprisingly easy to pull off once you know a few tips.
Setting Up Your Feast Table
When creating a grazing table for your event, you have the option of saving yourself cleaning up later on by reducing the amount of crockery and dishes used. This can be achieved by laying thick butchers paper or brown craft paper onto your chosen table. Place the food directly onto the brown paper. The table will be protected by the paper, and the food looks beautiful and rustically laid out. Best of all, save on cleaning up later by removing and throwing the paper away after the event.
If you are serving food that has a liquid component to it or is going to be messy for your guests to handle, you will need some dishes or bowls on hand. Dips and sauces should be in their own containers.
Avoid cross contamination of flavor by placing foods that are alike close to one another. You don’t want your liver paté anywhere near that lovely sponge cake your mother brought. Either have a separate table for desserts and savories, or separate them from one another with decor.
When choosing a location to set up your feast table, it is worth considering the space your event is in. Try to avoid having your table set up in the way of any major walkways or doorways. There will often be the people who hang out by the table (which is fine, that’s where all the good food is!), but you don’t want to collide with anyone when you’re walking back from the kitchen.
If your guests are unfamiliar with the grazing table style of entertainment, help them out. If your food has a particular assembly order necessary (such as for a sandwich bar), point out to your guests which end of the table they should start at. You could do this verbally or with a friendly sign saying something simple like, “start here.” Have the food, plates, and cutlery lined out logically in the order your guests will need them. For example, if you’re having a bruschetta bar, don’t have the plates as the last item your guests will pick up, as they’ll likely need something to put their food on at the beginning.
Ensure you have a place for your guests to place their waste. Strategically position rubbish bins so that guests can dispose of waste as they need to. With grazing tables, the idea is that your guests will come and collect their food, then take it away to eat.
If you haven’t got any rubbish bins available, your guest may be wondering what they’re supposed to do with their watermelon rinds or used napkins. Unless you want your guests to subtly hide their plates under their chairs, or place them back on the table full of food, have a bin conveniently located. Advise guests where it is before the meal begins. This will allow for the smoothest cleanup experience possible.
Ensure you have thought about where your guests will eat their food. Many people don’t like to eat standing up, and some dishes may be difficult to consume without sitting. Provide ample sitting spaces, within sight of the grazing table. When your guests turn from getting their food, they are easily able to head for somewhere comfortable to sit and enjoy their food. Depending on the size of your event, you may have several tables and chairs set up or groupings of chairs.
Types of Grazing Tables
There are various types of grazing tables you can try out. A table full of food is a welcome sight for any hungry guest, so here are a few ideas to get you started as you plan for your next event.
Build your own bagel party — A bagel bar is a wonderful idea for a weekend away breakfast or brunch with friends, or even breakfast for your little ones on their next school break. Have a variety of toppings on offer and let your guests go wild with their creation.
Bruschetta bar — Bruschetta makes a refreshing lunch and your guests can personalize their toppings to suit. If your guests have never made bruschetta before, you might like either to do it first and demonstrate, or have a few small samples made up for your guests to try before they assemble their own.
Cold soup bar — Allow your guests to sample several types of soups on offer and pick their favorite. Offer different garnishes such as fresh herbs and vegetables for a refreshing finish.
Make your own pizza bar — If you have a pizza oven at home, offer your guests the chance to make their own pizza. Pre-prepare the bases, then allow them to put their own toppings on. Cook the pizzas in your oven and have everyone enjoy their own masterpiece. For speed and convenience, this feast table is best reserved for smaller gatherings and individual mini-pizzas. You might even feel like trying out a dessert pizza with a Nutella base and strawberry marshmallow toppings.
Cheese and dips grazing table — A decadent assortment of savory snacks is one of the easiest feast tables to put together for casual and relaxed dining. Have a variety of textures and flavors on offer. Everyone can try a little bit of everything and come back for more if they like it. Pretzels, fruit platters, cheese, and crackers all belong on this table.
The main advantage of a feast table is the relaxed atmosphere it lends to your event. Guests can have as much or little to eat and drink as they like, you save yourself the hassle of clean up with generally less dishes, and no one is dependent on others to serve them. It’s the perfect solution if you love to entertain but would rather skip the hassle of a traditional tea party.
photo credits: Marcus Wallis, JC Carter, Melissa Walker, Anya Bell