1. Stick to a theme
Focus on one or two colours, or on fun motifs, such as ice skates, mittens and snowmen, for a skating party.
2. Be creative
Need a jumbo tablecloth? Hit the fabric store for inexpensive white nonfusible interfacing. Have the kids decorate it with crayons and markers the day before. Then pump up the pizzaz with a scalloped border (it's easy-cut material) or snowflake cutouts.
3. Add variety
Create an interesting tabletop "landscape" by varying the shapes, sizes and heights of platters, stands and tureens.
4. Festive cheer
Season the setup with holiday ornaments, loose or clustered on the table or displayed in clear bowls.
5. Keep it simple
Pull out the table for large parties so it's accessible from both sides. Stack dishes at one end so guests can fill their plates without fumbling with cutlery and napkins (place these at the opposite end).
6. Have 'courses'
Set out food in the same order as a sit-down meal: appetizer, salad, main course, followed by dessert and drinks. If you've got room, create separate food stations rather than loading up one superlong table. How about hot dishes in the kitchen, and dessert and drinks in the dining room?
7. Try recipes for finger food
Think easy-eat food, such as small cups of soup, two- or three-bite sandwiches and yummies easily scooped up with just a fork or spoon. Using a knife can be tricky when your lap is doubling as your table.
8. Safety first
If you don't have them, you can rent warming dishes and trays for hot food, but, remember, safety first. Keep them far away from the edges of the table if little, grabby hands will be helping themselves, or put out smaller portions of hot food and top up the serving dishes as they empty.
9. Be prepared
Arrange and decorate your holiday tables the night before, then set out the buffet just before your guests arrive.
Warm up the kids and the kids-at-heart with a cheerful postskating buffet. Try:
• Stacked pedestal cake plates are serving-space savers and, set out at different heights, add interest to the table. Load 'em up with sandwiches or desserts, or pile one high with ornaments for a standout centrepiece.
• Novelty ponytail bobbles are handy ties for napkin-wrapped cutlery, which can stand smartly at attention in a mug or vase. Later, the bobbles can become personal drink markers.
• Colourful cookies are tempting in a clear glass bowl. Put a platter of main-course munchies on top to maximizes space, but watch for wily guests trying to sneak treats before they've finished dinner.