(Sing to the tune of Nickelodeon's theme song) Dip da dip da dip dip dip, dip-along-with-me.
Dips are my favorite secret recipes for Thanksgiving meals or any really large gathering. While the soup and apps are cooking or being plated and the mains and sides are lined up and getting finished, guests are looking for something to do. It’s time to eat and drink. No matter how fancy the meal, or how busy I am, I keep no one waiting for either, from start to finish.
When I am entertaining for a gathering that lasts many hours and folks come before mealtime, I find that the easiest thing to do is to set up dip stations with different vegetables and crackers, breads and fruits.
Here’s how I make it work in my house, and how it can work for you:
The food zones:
- I put one dip station in a central spot in each main area of entertaining—except the room where you will be eating the feast—so that means all the public living areas. I set some up fancifully, with neatly cut, single bite veggies or cheese on half-sized skewers or in small single-serve disposable cups or dishes.
- I like to set up one large fresh fruit and veggie zone, with those fruits and veggies spilling bountifully out of a scooped-out, tipped-over vegetable (think pumpkin), a cornucopia basket, or even a (clean!) metal pail with a selection of dips surrounding it. I add height to any setup with glasses filled with tall breadsticks and put the vegetables on tiers built out of piles of same-sized dishes or stacks of increasingly smaller cutting boards (I like serving roasted veggies on those since they need to lay down.)
The decor and theme:
- The decor around the dip zones counts, so even though I am not a food stylist or designer, I try to be as creative with colors, fabrics, textures, and heights as I can be. I choose cotton-blend fabric tablecloths and napkins, table runners, or placemats and collect inexpensive fabric ends from fabric shops. I prefer using fabric blends so I can launder them in the washing machine post-party with ease. When I have a zillion kids coming, I take two extra precautions: I place all kid-friendly food where they can reach it (usually a low coffee table) and never put out crazy hot things there. I also put a pretty rimmed tray or a gullied cutting board (like the ones meant for meat) on top or even a rimmed baking sheet that I cover with fabric, to catch the inevitable avalanche of spills.
- I use end tables, stools, stacks of heavy cookbooks or textbooks and TV tables—whatever I have—and cover them with tablecloths and other fabrics—neatly tucked or tied so no one trips, but they look dressed up. I avoid plastic items unless they are part of the theme.
- As you might have guessed, the key for me is to stay on theme for the event—like Thanksgiving’s bounty—and to set up as many dip zones as I can dotted around the entertainment areas. I make each area look a little bit different and make sure that they feature different dips, cheeses, veggies, and fruits.
- Multiple dip stations serve another purpose: they give your guests a reason to move around and circulate a little. I usually figure one one dip zone for every 10 people. (I suspect this idea is a leftover from my acting training as a teen, because you move when you have a reason and honestly, it works).
The upshot when it comes to decor and space: No matter how much space you have or can allocate for entertaining, or what your exact serving game plan is, you can make your party festive and appealing by making creative use of all sorts of things. Present food that is authentic to you and embrace a theme. Reflect your style, your sensibility, your creativity, and as long as you make sure that you show off the joy you get from caring for everyone by bringing them together over food and drinks (and serve lots of dips in zones!), I bet you will be hosting one truly great event.
BTW: To avoid the Seinfeldian double dipping, I cut all vegetables into bite-sized portions and serve small crackers, which makes it hard(ish) to double dip. I also place small decorative spoons in each dip. I can’t say everyone uses them, but mostly they get the hint and behave.