Solving the big issues: Let me entertain you

Last week I got an email from Michelle at Farmers Wifey which I knew would be perfect for these segments of tackling the big issues. She needs our help! And we are here to help aren’t we?

She writes:

“At mealtimes, what is best to do? Serve each family members plates to them already full, or have the yummy food in lovely serving platters etc in the middle of the table and have everyone help themselves? I’m kind of thinking that the latter is more chic…can you help? Oh wait! There’s more….OR have the serving platters on the table and serve each person at the table by the host/the mother/the boss of the family? Confused much!”

Confused you should be Michelle – it’s a tough topic, but one I’m going to tackle. I think I’m up to it.  Round these parts most nights dinner is served on each person’s plates and bought to table. If we are having something new that the kids haven’t had before I find that letting them have some control over it (like serving themselves) will make them try it more. We have little tongs just for that too! Weird but true.

Dinner parties and or lunch soirees are a different kettle of fish. The show pony factor needs to be upped and sometimes a platter can do that for you. Things like pastas/curries are best to be served in the kitchen onto plates and served individually. I think for a more formal dinner party that it’s best to serve in the kitchen and bring out the plates for guests. One exception to this rule would be if you had something really flashy and fiddly with show pony factor of 9.5 or above (kind of like this Salmon en croute). You really want to impress those bastards so take it to the table and serve from there. If it was a more casual family dinner like a BBQ or lasagna then whack it in the middle and serve out to guests. I always prefer the host to serve out to guests if there is one main dish (like a lasagna or big bowl of pasta) but if there are a number of dishes to be used like a roast with potatoes/greens etc let the people help themselves. The host can also portion control as they go which helps when you only have enough and not lots of leftovers (never the case here I always overdo it). ALWAYS, I repeat, always let the guest serve their own amounts of sauces/gravy etc.

So, my answer is, it depends on what you as the hostess are trying to achieve from the dinner. Want to host a fancy dinner party? Serve those plates in the kitchen and bring them to table (exception being for fancy pants things that need to be seen whole). Something more casual? Platter it up and have the hostess serve (if there is just one main dish to serve from). Casual with lots of dishes to chose from? Let the bastards help themselves.

And remember, always serve champagne to start. Actually, that might just apply to me.

Thoughts people? Where have I gone wrong here? What did I miss? There are SO MANY DIFFERENT AREAS TO COVER HERE aren’t there? I see a series. Table setting. Flower arranging. Hostess etiquette….oh my, I need to lie down.



  1. You had me at the champagne starters!

  2. Catherine says

    My Mum ALWAYS served up our food for us except at family barbecues. When I travelled to England/US I thought it was so sophisticated that they had all the vegies and meat on platters on the table for you to help yourself. Which just goes to prove….not very much! These days I generally do the serving for the kids with extra salad on the table sometimes. PS The Project was great.

  3. I do both.
    But I must say I LOVE people serving themselves.
    I love the sharing and passing of plates of food.
    I LOVE the interactions it creates around the table.
    Because after all it the people at your table that matter the most.
    Being a perfect hostess for me is about sharing yourself with your guests.
    It’s about making people feel welcomed into your life & home and that goes way beyond how the food is served or even WHAT food is served.
    I think the days are long gone where there are rules about this.
    People come to your house for YOU.

  4. We went to a gorgeous wedding in January where the food was served in the middle of each table on beautiful white platters- so much more chic than the old alternate serve! So that’s motivated me to do the same when we have guests over. For every day dinners with just us it’s me serving on plates and taking them to the table with a ‘shush up and eat your greens!’

  5. We usually serve on plates and then take to the table – for all occasions except the big family gigs (eg Christmas etc). In saying that there is sometimes a meal where we have the self serve in the middle of the table the and little misses (7 and 9) LOVE this idea. Perhaps it is their feeling of control. Not sure. And they actually eat quite a lot more than they do when it is served to them. Go figure

  6. I looove serving platters…makes me feel all fancy pants (the kids too!) xx

  7. When there are guests I love piling the table with food and watching the guests pass the platters around like a scene from The Waltons (may just be showing my age here). When it’s just a regular meal we serve in the kitchen, though having said that we sometimes serve from the table. I tend to agree with GourmetGirlfriend – the rules of etiquette have changed and many of those rules have long gone.

  8. Being from Denmark I was totally weirded out by the Australian way of dishing up for other people. That does not happen in Denmark! How could the host possibly know how many potatos I wanted, how much meat, greens, sauce….? I was horrified. However, 7 years and 3 kids later and I’m a huge fan of wacking everything on plates for everyone. A lot less mess and a lot less dishes to do at the end of the day.

  9. Being from Denmark I was totally weirded out by the Australian way of dishing up for other people. That does not happen in Denmark! How could the host possibly know how many potatos I wanted, how much meat, greens, sauce….? I was horrified. However, 7 years and 3 kids later and I’m a huge fan of wacking everything on plates for everyone. A lot less mess and a lot less dishes to do at the end of the day.

  10. Agree that the host should serve from the platters for main and let them do own sides.

    Can I ask the most ridiculous question?? PLEASE excuse my massive ignorance, but I never cook roasts. But how long do I cook a roast chicken for? You seem to be the queen of all things Roast Beth.
    (ducking for cover)

  11. I was always told 25 minutes for every 500 gm chicken. Reasonably hot oven. However if you poke the tip of a sharp knife in the thigh joint and juices which come out are clear, then it’s done. Pink juices show more time needed. Put aside to rest covered with foil and make the gravy with pan juices and whatever else you add. Gravy? There’s another blog post for you Beth.

  12. Forgot to add to above comment. OUr kitchen was cold o in winter we served at the table. I’d agree about children eating more when they served themselves. We used to just say that there were always seconds but they had to eat what they had taken. (within reason on both sides of course.) They soon learnt and were happy to help themselves to more.

  13. Superb. Just superb. You have tackled that big issue with aplomb.
    At our wedding all food was served on platters in the centre of big long tables. It was the bomb diggity because it was free and easy and everyone broke the ice passing platters and serving each other, chatting and pouring wine. I love a platte, but not for the smalls – they pile all the potatoes onto their plate, leaving none for us and then they avoid all other things with ‘vegetable’ in the title, no for the smalls its all dished up. Although I’ve heard that the French always allow children to serve themselves (like your Danish friend said), so that they can exercise control over how much they want etc. Thats probably right, the French usually are.

  14. Oh Beth, thank you for posting this! I was seriously confused about what is the best thing to do..and now I see that it really depends on the occasion and what I am trying to achieve! Casual or Show pony factor or whatever on the day!

    I love your reader comments too! Thank you guys…and thanks again Beth xoxoxo

  15. Week nights I serve on to plates…weekends I used bread boards or dishes or platters…does depend on the dish. Miss 5 yr has been caught putting 12 potatoes onto a plate and only eating 1 so I do police that now a little…

  16. I do both as well. Although dinner parties (which used to be an almost weekly affair in this house) are lucky to happen twice a year these days. Sad but true.

    I adopted more of the serving from platters at the table when I heard of the study which showed children will serve themselves a more appropriate portion size than what we give them on a plate. I was doubtful but I see it time and time again with my boys. (except in the older ones who have genetically inherited the complete lack of an off-switch when it comes to eating.)

    We too are fans of the mini-tongs. With kids anything that adds bells and whistles is a winner – things you have to wrap, roll etc – always a winner. But I am digressing.

    Champagne makes everything better.

  17. Anonymous says

    Agree with you Beth.
    However find myself weekdays calling out from kitchen ‘how hungry are you ‘ to my bloke and teens and then guesstimate portions, ridiculous, get pissed off if they don’t est what I serve, get pissed off if going for seconds as no lunches for next day!
    Love love big white platters of food on table and the passing around and chatter and the stealing of crackle they goes on on relaxed eating days/parties/family gatherings.
    I love cloth napkins not paper. Have a friend who I avoid meals at her house like the plague who plonks a box of tissues for us all to use as we need during meal, wrong, wrong, wrong!

  18. I love serving small bowls with different sides on the table and serving the kids and my partner from the table. Albeit it does make more washing up though! My partner says it is always a hodgepodge of things. NOOO.
    It is just that when we visit his parents in the country we get served a big plate with a large chunk of meat and so many veggies including mashy peas. We also get served a cup of tea with our meal and have the glass of wine on the other side of the plate. Don’t get me wrong it is nice when someone else makes you dinner and serves it up.
    I think when you get served everything on your plate it makes you not want to go for seconds which is a good thing. My family on the other hand are crazy about food and we fought at the table growing up and it was non stop crazy passing plate from here to there, serving seconds and large amounts of food, maybe it is the italian, jewish, spanish culture that makes this happen!
    Great post, love reading everyone’s comment on how people do things differently. xx

  19. This made me laugh, I never actually though about it but agree with you Beth. Depends how close you are to the guests and the occasion.

  20. Beth, you are absolutely 100% correct.

    Ordinary nightly dinners are served on the plate. Otherwise its just too many extra dishes I tell you! Plus it gives my kids too much of an opportunity to fuss over what they’re eating.

    Dinner parties are very different, of cours,e as are casual BBQs. Then all the pretty serving plates and utensils come out. Everyone still has to serve themselves. I’m the cook not a waitress.

    Champagne, champagne, champagne. Good one.

  21. Thought I’d have a quick read before I started cooking dinner, now I am totally famished – fab photos! Off to get a glass of bubbles now. Champagne, always champagne.

  22. Shouldn’t you be asking your sister? Isn’t she the master dinner party thrower?;)

  23. I serve the plates up for the kids, otherwise we wouldn’t get any! But for guests I think it’s best for them to serve themselves.

    I was going to have an AFN (alcohol free night) until I saw those bubbles.

  24. We like to mix it up. Rob’s family always, always over cater. I love it. Combine 3 siblings and his parents and they all want to contribute. Easter and Christmas verge on obscene – but unless it’s something very fiddly it all goes in the middle of a side table or bench and we all (16) serve ourselves. We catered for our our wedding (the guests just thought it was Rob’s birthday party until just before dessert) we had all our favs, and we served them all up on platters (oysters, ocean trout gravlax, bread, cold roast beef, cold rolled duck ballotine, slow cooked pork belly, salads, then a show pony 2kg French cheese and the birthday/wedding cake) damn, I’d do it all over again, right now. Best day ever. Very casual. I totally agree, there should always be bubbles!

  25. Growing up in the States we always had all the food in the middle of the table and everyone served themselves…it didn’t matter who was there…so that is what I do.

    If someone invites me into their home to share their food then I don’t judge how they serve it! I just enjoy the company, try not to eat until the hostess has eaten and I keep my elbows off the table!

  26. Well now that I think about it it’s always from the middle of the table in our household. Interesting reading here in the comments that overseas countries serve from the table too, my European in-laws have always done that. You did so well last night on the TV you big star Beth! Loved it! Well done x

  27. I have only just starting reading your blog and looking at your pics in the last few weeks. But I love how much champagne I see!

  28. Can we do clothes storage and wardrobes next? and hangers? Please?

    Re platters v plates, I have a blog devoted to this and the answer is simple:

    Less than 4 people- individual serves in a sort of artsy stack (circa 1995, pin nut garnish optional)

    Bigger soiree- platters which are called “Family Style” in USA. This lends itself to roasts like turkey and pork especially.

    I find that people eat less when platters are involved.

    And of course, booze is Key.

    Carry on x

    PS, Stacking and (vomit) Scraping plates at the table is the Thin Edge of the Wedge and a Bridge too Far. Thoughts?

  29. You cook it. I will eat it. From a trough if required x

  30. Before I forget, after FF”s pertinent request for a clothes storage segment, I’m pondering your thoughts on fridge management?

    I’m all for oven to tableware, which is often my incredibly large italian stainless steel shiny pots, leading back to the dishwasher issue (you have to be able to do your makeup with them before they are allowed on the table). There are no candlelit soirees in this house, but suppers, so already the tone is set at the point of invitation … casual, feel free to drink beer, but I’ll be sticking to my bubbles thank you. Always pots and platters when guests are involved. I’ve got a cupboard full of them and I can’t take them with me, so any platter opportunity arises and they are whipped out. But this is a household where we often hold high teas just for the hell of it and use all the fancy smanchy tiers and flowery china a stuff.

    Bullet Point: Definitely no scraping at the table with guests – oh no!

    During the week feeding time involves plating up each individually, leaving it on the kitchen bench and yelling. There is always table linen no matter who is eating on what day. Weekend family eating is a different affair. There is often a self serve menu – wraps and sushi are lazy susan favourites. (yes – lazy susan – dead posh around here). I have a mountain of those minature tong thingies in the 3rd drawer down – always a hit. Sunday roast is plattered on the table, it’s one of the few meals we all get to eat together. Portion control is never an issue, I like you, always overcook. It’s the Irish famine instinct in me, plus 3 years of living in italy and eating 3 plates per meal. Feeling self concious admitting there are some meals planned to be eaten in front of DVD watching, like tonight – pizza people.

    Beth, have a wonderful weekend, and hat off to you for being on the front line with the issues the rest of us are afraid to face head on.


  31. Love this topic. We plate up in the kitchen, each child (youngest is 8) carries their plate to the table & we have canisters of cutlery on the dinner table. Yes, it’s a bit ‘mess hall’ but we’re a military family with lots of children, it works for us. I adore the idea of platters down the middle, maybe one day when each child has arms long enough & no need to lean on elbows for balance. All those beautiful Nigella platters remain in the cupboards until parties. It just changes as the children grow. OMG, when the girls all have boyfriends over – i’m thinking help yourself from the platters down the centre & awkward glares as the boyfriends ask my husband to pass the peas. Tee hee, love Posie

  32. Your food pics are amazing Beth. Love them. And love you solving these big issues.

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