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How to Host a Small Gathering: Modernist Entertaining Tips

If a small gathering is something you’re comfortable with right now, let us help you make it special. Take stock of your entertaining items to make sure you have what you need to do it in line with your modernist tastes!

Table top with salad and spaghetti and Food52 products

The past few months have invited us all to think more creatively about how we gather and entertain. After all, being intentional about community is essential for mental health. A small gathering that adheres to your local guidelines can help keep the Covid-induced loneliness at bay. So take stock of your tableware, serving dishes and other entertaining items to make sure you have what you need for a safer and more intimate gathering, all while matching your modernist tastes. We’ve gathered entertaining tips and ideas for you to use with your smaller guest list this season—and some essential pieces to go with them, thanks to our friends over at Food52.

Atomic Ranch curates the best of Mid Century Modern Design to share with our readers. Some of the products you’ll see featured in this story are affiliate links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, AR will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Table with matte black and white dishware on it
This set of matte dishware has unqiue modernist appeal. Photography by Ty Mecham and Rocky Luten/Food52.

Take it Outside

Did you know that research suggests outdoor gathering can be safer than indoor gathering? Especially with the current social distancing guidelines, we recommend taking your small gathering outside as long as the weather permits. A picnic or al fresco dinner can still be classy if you bring a few essentials with you. First, make sure you have a set of sturdy bakeware that has lids so it will travel well and keep the food as hot as possible at the same time. Also ensure that there’s a way for you to get music outdoors, either through a sound system in your backyard, or a portable speaker that will travel with you wherever you choose to go.

small portable speaker on the edge of a table
This small portable speaker can go wherever the party is! Photography by Ty Mecham and Rocky Luten/Food52.

One of our top outdoor entertaining tips is to keep things simple—don’t worry about dragging all the contents of your dining room sideboard out to the backyard if simple solutions will work. Have guests serve themselves inside before taking their plates out. You can even have them go inside one by one to keep the indoor contact down. And of course, make sure you keep hand sanitizer nearby so guests can use it before coming near the food.

Wine cooler and coffee pot
Inside or outside, you can take this wine bottle chiller and a 1953 teapot design from Food52 with you wherever you decide to host your small gathering. Photography by Ty Mecham, Julia Gartland, Rocky Luten, & Bobbi Lin/Food52.

Set the Small Gathering Scene

When it comes to setting your table and preparing for a small gathering, a few key entertaining tips will help you set the scene for success. First, consider how you’ll keep things safe for your guests. Make sure you don’t have more than 10 people, and if you can, arrange the seating to maintain social distancing. One simple way to do this is to keep distance between households—seat one household on each end of the table, with some room in the middle.

But what to do with that empty table space? Make it a spot to showcase your mid century style. Keep a collection of candles on hand to create mood lighting, boost the atmosphere and chase away the shadows that will accumulate at an outdoor dinner party.

collection of multi-colored candles with various shapes lit on a table
Food52’s totem candle collection is classy and perfect for a mid century-inspired dinner party. Photography by Ty Mecham, Rocky Luten, & Julia Gartland/Food52.

Just because you’re having a socially-distance small gathering doesn’t mean it can’t have great style. “The table should feel warm, inviting, and delicious (like the meal!),” says Jojo Feld, VP of Merchandising & Supply Chain at Food52. Depending on the season, an arrangement of fresh flowers, greens or even bare branches will spice up your space in a simple mid century inspired vase or two. Then add an element of fun or surprise to the table too! “Just because the table is fully set, doesn’t mean it can no longer be a place to have some fun,” Jojo says. Try using a mid century collectible in that larger centerpiece, or keep salt and pepper in appropriately-MCM owl shakers.

salt and pepper shaker and vase
These salt and pepper shakers, paired with a simple porcelain vase and floral arrangement will harken back to the 1970s and work well for a mid century dining table or breakfast nook. Photography by Ty Mecham and Rocky Luten/Food52.

Cocktail Hour

When guests first walk into your backyard, the first thing you want to offer them is a drink—and make sure you have a non-alcoholic option too. Why offer a drink before dinner? This is one of those tips that’s about the small gathering vibe. Even if you’re not planning to serve more than one type of alcohol for the evening, the drink offer immediately makes the small gathering atmosphere feel both relaxed and tasteful. Though of course, make sure you do this safely—for example, serve your guests yourself so you’re the only one touching the bottle.

Non-alcoholic drink and bar cart
You don’t have to be drinking alcohol to have a good time! Stock up your bar cart with non-alcoholic beverages too, which work well for a small gathering at any time of day. Photography by Ty Mecham, Rocky Luten/Food52.

To make the cocktail hour fun and easy for you as the host, have a bar area set up—or better yet, a bar cart. It’s a self-contained area you can easily roll out to your backyard so the party feels like a classy mid mod affair without being affected by social distancing practices. On your bar cart, display your vintage mid century glassware, alongside your wine options and decanters. If you want to include a signature cocktail, we recommend mixing them with a cocktail shaker before the guests arrive so there’s no need to crowd around the bar cart.

Decanter and cocktail shaker
These cocktail hour favorites, from the whiskey decanter to the chic cocktail shaker, are perfect for the mid mod host. Photographs by Rocky Luten, Ty Mecham and Julia Gartland/Food52.

Serveware Central

One of our key entertaining tips is to make sure you have the serveware you need before your small gathering. Whether it’s acquiring a new set of dishware, some cool mid century-inspired Danish pots or replacing those cracked wooden spoons, now is the time to stock up on any serving and tableware you’ll be glad you have when you actually go to entertain guests. Try to set the table before your guests arrive so you’re the only one who has touched the pieces, or ask whoever helps you to wash their hands well before handling the dishware and cutlery.

Pots and plates
A set of matte Food52 dishware and sleek Danish pots will pair well with your mid century-themed dining. Photography by Rocky Luten, Julia Gartland, Bobbi Lin & Ty Mecham/Food52.

Last, don’t be afraid to mix and match your tableware and other entertaining items, from true vintage collectibles to new items with modernist flair. “We gravitate towards natural materials and tones, but can easily throw some whimsy and color in there,” Jojo says. “Feel free to set your table and adorn your countertops with different colors, textures and materials, and even different time periods (we do a good amount of heritage-meets-modern spaces on our site and in our homes).”

Head over to Food52 for more gorgeous modernist tableware, kitchen items and even recipes! And of course, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest for more Atomic Ranch articles and ideas!

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