How to Make Paper Plates Look Pretty in a Pinch
The turkey is in the oven, sides have been delegated to family members and there’s a wine and bourbon stash large enough to serve a small village. A pat on the back is well-deserved, as planning a Thanksgiving feast for twenty-something hungry individuals is no small task. One important question remains: Are there enough plates for the party people? If you're not Martha Stewart, the answer is most likely: No. To avoid spending hundreds of dollars on fine china for one dinner, consider paper plates, a saving grace that can easily be dressed up in a pinch.
Here, top event planners and industry experts weigh in with décor and design tips.
Stick to paper goods
When in doubt, “keep the paper train going,” says Liz Curtis, founder of Table + Teaspoon, an online “rent the table” service. “Place cards, menu cards, straws and cocktail napkins in paper form have all become chic in the last few years,” she adds. Whatever the color scheme, mix and match prints to zest up the table. Paper napkins in deep fall colors, like burgundy, rust, mustard seed or chocolate, will make a huge difference, says Amy Shey Jacobs, founder of Chandelier Events.
“A chalkboard runner is both on point with the paper theme and a fun way to get into the Thanksgiving spirit,” says Curtis. “Have guests write the top three things they’re grateful for this year with chalk that you place at each setting.” When other paper elements are present, no one will think twice about your choice of paper plates in lieu of fine china.
Layering is key
A plain white plate, regardless of material, is not that interesting, so jazz things up with layers. “Take a couple sprigs of dried lavender and place on top of a paper napkin, and tie with kitchen twine or a leftover sprig of greenery,” says Christina Stembel of Farmgirl Flowers. A little dimension and color goes a long way. “If doing paper napkins, arrange the flatware and napkins together so there's thought and purpose with their placement,” Roey Mizrahi, owner of Roey Mizrahi Events adds. “Having a salad and dinner plate stacked will also elevate no matter what the material.”
Create a distractive focal point
Fall foliage makes for on point décor and can easily be scooped up in the backyard. Stembel says to “lay foliage pieces down the center of the table, alternating different types of foliage almost as if you're making a faux garland. Start at the center and lay the foliage with their tops facing the ends of the table.” Finish by adding pumpkins, squash and gourds on top of the garland. The texture of leaves, along with natural elements, will effortlessly match those not-so-showy paper plates. “Extra points if you can find leaves that are already turning into beautiful fall colors,” she adds.
Patterned tablecloths are a quick and easy way to zest up the situation. Bold colors will “add to the distraction technique,” says Mizrahi. “You can also do a personalized Kraft paper tablecloth, assigning the seats and leaving the disposables off the table. You can set up the food on an adjacent table with the plates stacked and the flatware presented in a basket.”
Break out the craft supplies
Ask yourself, What would Martha Stewart do? Honestly, she’d probably go out and buy decorative china in a bind, but take a moment to scope out what’s available at home. Markers, colored paper and spray paint will save you in a craft predicament. Ivy Robinson, owner of Ivy Robinson Events, suggests punching holes around the rim of the plate and weaving ribbon through the holes for a decorative touch.
Also: A brown paper bag doubles as a great flatware holder. Place a fork, spoon and knife in a bag and pop it on top of a paper plate to create a hip table setting. Robinson suggests adding words like “grateful,” “give thanks,” “dig in,” “feast” or the guest’s name on the bag. “If you don’t have time to grab bags, take twine or ribbon and wrap around the flatware with a sprig of rosemary.”
When in doubt, add gold metallic accents to drab paper plates. Jacobs suggests decking out maple leaves from the backyard in gold spray paint to serve as chic place card settings to go alongside plates. “Spray acorns, rocks and branches for gilded design accents—and if you can, find golden metallic paper napkins at a local party store,” she says. Prosecco and Champagne serve as perfect bubbly accents that even be served in plastic tumblers to go with the night’s theme of casual cool.
Host a more informal gathering
Switch up the fancy turkey dinner for a more casual family cook-off. “Every Thanksgiving my brother and I have a clam chowder cook off,” Robinson says. “We blind serve our family with bowl number 1 or 2, paper bowls of course, and they vote on the best ‘chowda.’ Everyone gathers around as we cook and laugh at our bantering back and forth.” Whether it be chili or soup or appetizers, it sets the tone as more informal and relaxed—where paper plates are expected and embraced.
A food and wine tasting is also a perfect setting for infamous paper products. “Most fancy top chef food and wine tasting events always have them,” says Jacobs. “Instead, focus on the food! Serve up small plates of cool foods from multiple buffets and pair them with plastic tumblers of beer, wine and spirits. Your foodie friends will celebrate your ingenuity and devour the variety.”