Your Home’s 7 Different Serving Spaces & How to Use Them

We believe gathering your loved ones around a table to indulge in delicious food and fellowship is one of the greatest joys in life, whether it's for an intimate dinner party or a notable holiday celebration. So, when it comes time to host a gathering, we make sure that each serving space is “thoughtfully styled”. 

But how do you decide where to serve from for an event? And what are the best tips and tricks for getting the most out of each spot? Learn about the seven different serving spaces in your home and when, why, and how to properly use them to make your gatherings unforgettable. 

The Importance of Hosting

Among the many reasons that are common to just skip entertaining or hosting altogether, a few we hear most often are: 

  • "My home isn't ready"
  • "My home is too small"
  • "I don't have what I need to host well"

In our family, while hosting is something we all enjoy as an engrained skill passed down to each generation, we too find ourselves making the same excuses for not entertaining from time to time. One of the ways we inspire others to make entertaining easier and more enjoyable is to get creative with what you have. When it comes to spaces for serving, chances are there are so many serving spaces, both big and small, in your home - you just have to know where to look and how to use them, and we're here to help you do just that!

What Makes a Serving Space?

In the world of hosting, a serving space is simply anywhere in your home where you can set up your serveware and dinnerware and serve your menu. These areas should be versatile, multifunctional, and practical, whether the guests are serving themselves or you are plating individual settings. At first glance, you may assume there’s only one or two in your home, like the dining table, but with a closer look, you’ll soon see there are many spots that can double as serving spaces. 

3 Questions to Ask When Picking a Serving Space for Your Gathering

Planning an event involves meticulous planning — including where and how you’ll serve your inspired menu. As you follow your party prep timeline, ask yourself these questions to help decide on a serving space: 

1. How Many People Are Attending?

    One of the first questions to answer is how many guests you expect. This number will inform both the size of your menu and where in the home you and your loved ones will be dining. Depending on the number, certain serving specificities are decided, from choosing serveware to determining which serving space will fit your dishes.   

    2. Are You Gathering Inside or Outside?

      When planning your party, there are several aspects to consider when deciding whether to host inside or outside. Indoor gatherings can work year-round, whether setting up a creative charcuterie board on the kitchen counter or setting the dining table for an intimate get together. At the same time, outside gatherings offer even more serving options. Each option also has its own short list of available serving spaces, which can help guide your decision. 

      Pro tip: Few things rival gathering outside on the back porch and enjoying a casual yet elevated meal with loved ones, so weather permitting, we host outdoors as often as we can. If enjoying your meal al fresco sounds ideal, consider if the temperature outside will be comfortable enough for guests to eat and stay out for the duration of the gathering. 

      3. What Serving Style Are You Using?

        As far as the main dining experience goes, choosing a serving style helps inform which serving space works best. If you decide to serve buffet-style, you'll need to choose a separate serving space away from your dining area. Family-style serving means that everything will be set out on the table with you. Plated style is the most formal of the three, with all serving platters and cookware remaining out of sight in the kitchen. 

        The 7 Different Serving Spaces and How to Utilize Them

        When it comes to hosting, there are so many options in the home — ones you might not even expect. Learn the best practices for serving from these seven different spaces found in our homes to design beautiful gatherings for you and your loved ones: 

        1. Kitchen Island

          Kitchen islands are good for more than just food prep — in the right setting, they make a wonderful serving space. Setting up your menu on the island helps mark the kitchen as the hub of the party. The island works best if your home's floor plan is open concept, keeping a smooth flow throughout your event. If your kitchen is more closed off, unless you're eating in the kitchen, opt for a different serving space.

          Kitchen island serving is perfect for a casual family gathering — especially if some of the food should be served directly from the stove. If you're craving a buffet style but have a smaller guest list, inviting your friends and family to stop by the island to fill their plates is an easy method. Whether it's for an event like our own Logan and Ernest's baby shower, which featured a full meal arranged on the island, or a few grab-and-go finger foods for friends, we recommend considering this space. 

          Any dinnerware and serveware shine on the island, so the rest of the design is up to you. If you're just offering snacks, smaller dishes and serving bowls filled with chips, pretzels, or more will fit perfectly. And, as this is a casual serving space, there's no need to lay down linens. 

          Tips for Making the Kitchen Island a Great Serving Space:

          • Clear any unnecessary items from the surface and bar stools or chairs out from the surrounding area.
          • Add a few florals or candles for a laidback centerpiece.
          • Play with serveware of different heights to add depth and volume.
          • Choose wood boards or cookware that can be easily moved throughout the event.
          • Play around with using a matching set of serveware or mixing multiple designs together.
          2. Buffet Table

            The buffet table is a traditional piece of furniture designed to be used for one specific purpose—we’ll give you one hint: it’s in the name! This long and narrow table is typically positioned in the dining room or close to the kitchen for single-file lined-up serving that’s perfect for larger gatherings and get-togethers.

            When setting up a buffet serving space, the order of your carefully chosen serving dishes matters. There should always be a clear starting side, with the food arranged in the suggested serving order. Remember to set out your favorite spoon rests, such as the timeless Signature White spoon rests, next to each dish so its designated serving utensil has a clean place to rest between uses and keeps the food looking fresh, and your buffet surface clean.

            When Should You Serve Buffet-Style?

            If your event has a larger guest list or a more laidback timeline where attendees are coming and going, we suggest using buffet-style. Buffet-style serving is one of the most versatile serving styles there is, and our family loves to use it for all kinds of gatherings, from holidays to once-in-a-lifetime celebrations. From our Easter in Bloom luncheon to our seaside soiree our go-to serving style at our beach house and more, we enjoy setting a stylish buffet table for a range of occasions.  

            3. Kitchen Counter

              If we need access to the stovetop to keep our food warm during an event, we may opt to use the stovetop and the neighboring kitchen counter as a designated serving space. If you don't have a slow cooker or chafing dishes to keep your food warm in a separate area in the house, don't be afraid to use the kitchen. We often serve soups, chilis, and gumbo straight from the pot to ensure they stay hot and fresh from stovetop to table. Just have your soup bowl and plates on the counter next to the stove so guests can easily transfer the food to their dish. 

              4. Dining Table

                The dining table is the most obvious essential serving space — and with good reason. Almost any gathering can take place around this type of table, whether you’re serving family-style or formal plated dinners. 

                Dining tables can be used in different ways for each of the three serving styles. If serving family style, you can set your menu out in the middle of the table in beautiful serveware to be passed around from person to person. If you plan to eat elsewhere in your home, you could use the dining table as a buffet-style space. For a more formal plated dinner party, you might even set up the informal dining table as the area to plate the meals before they're brought to your guests in another area. 

                When it comes to setting a dining table, creativity is key. Dress your table setting up with matching or complementary cloth napkins, placemats, and tablecloths, or keep your tabletop simple — the choice is yours. 

                5. Coffee Table

                  The coffee table is a great entertaining hub for finger foods, snacks, light bites, or even desserts for a casual gathering with a family member or close friend. For something laid-back, like a Winning Night of Cards Gathering, the coffee table can work as the sole serving space, complete with the perfect serving bowl filled with popcorn. Encourage guests to stay longer by inviting them to the sitting room for coffee or tea and offering sweet treats after a big event

                  When setting up a coffee table, skip the table linens and bring out your go-to serving dishes. As most, if not all, of the dishes offered in this serving space are finger foods, there's no need to set out serving utensils. Just bring out your favorite wood boards, platters, and bowls and encourage your guests to dig in. 

                  6. Bar Area

                    The bar area, while not traditionally used for serving food, is still an essential serving space. You’ll want to utilize this area for any event where drinks are served. Whether you have a makeshift bar cart or a built-in wet bar, this area can house large batches of signature cocktails in your favorite white pitcher, liquor options, wine bottles, and non-alcoholic alternatives such as juice or soda in coolers. 

                    Must-Have Bar Essentials

                    • Shaker sets – perfect for making your favorite cocktails
                    • Cocktail napkins – available in all kinds of patterns and designs to suit any occasion
                    • Ice buckets – for keeping a celebratory bottle of Champagne cool
                    • Glassware – we recommend our favorite colored glass brand, Estelle
                    • Small bowls – for garnishes like olives, lemon and lime wedges, and more
                    7. When Necessary: Use a Folding Table

                      For some larger gatherings, you may find yourself in need of some extra table or sittingspace. A sturdy and convenient folding table is the best quick fix to this issue. With how multifunctional they are, we should all consider a folding table an entertaining essential for everyone to have on hand. Whether you need an extra surface to extend your table for a larger-than-life Christmas Eve dinner, want to separate sections of a buffet menu, or need a makeshift bar, a folding table can come in handy for a multitude of uses. 

                      To elevate a typical folding table from simple to styled, we believe you must, must, must cover them with floor-length linens. Taking the time to dress these generally mundane-looking tables helps them blend into your gathering. Use multiple layered tablecloths or an extra-large rectangular tablecloth to hang down and disguise the legs.  

                      Great Ideas for Elevating a Folding Table

                      Treat your folding table just like your normal dining table - there’s no excuse not to make everything around you look beautiful {especially your entertaining spaces.} There's no reason not to make everything around you look beautiful, and that includes your dining spaces, so it’s important to treat setting a folding table just like your normal dining table. Unlock your inner designer and play with adding these things to spruce up your folding table: 

                      • Design a tablescape for it, just like you would any other serving space
                      • Add a beautiful tablecloth, complete with matching placemats and napkins
                      • Feature a themed centerpiece that ties into your gathering
                      • Showcase some beautiful florals or candles
                      • Add all necessary and decorative table accessories

                      How to Make a Folding Table Better for Serving

                      Folding tables are generally quite narrow, and when setting up a pop-up dining area, we'll do everything we can to enhance it and make it work for our needs. The best way to make a folding table work for a gathering is to enhance the width. Simply add a standard 4 x 8 piece of plywood on top of the table and secure it along the edges with a standard bracket and set of screws. This easy addition strengthens your table and adds surface area to your makeshift serving space.

                      Coton Colors’ Recommended Folding Tables:

                      When it comes to hosting, there's no limit to how creative you can get with the versatile serving spaces you have on hand. With the right dinnerware, serveware, and setup, you can give your guests a reason to linger around the table a little longer as they enjoy your gathering. Take our advice and consider how you'd set up your own serving spaces to make your special events unforgettable. 

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