Do you ever hear of certain ideas and think….oh, why didn’t I think of that? It happens to me more than I care to admit. Something I work so hard to do can suddenly be achieved in an easier, less challenging way. Take tablescapes for instance. I love putting together a tablescape, but others find the task to be daunting. Well, fear not, the wesbite Table + Teaspoon, was created to allow people to pick out a tablescape theme online, get it shipped in time for your event, and mail it back (dirty dishes and all). Genius, right?
I interviewed Liz Curtis, the founder of Table + Teaspoon to learn more about this facinating and practical concept that allows you to become the ultimate hostess. You will quickly be volunteering to host your next dinner party. Happy tablescaping!
Where are you from and where do you live currently?
I grew up in Berkeley and Atherton, both amazing Bay Area towns! For the last decade, I’ve lived in San Francisco by the Golden Gate Bridge.
What prompted you to start Table + Teaspoon?
I’ve always been interested in creating beautiful things – luxe tablescapes, interior design, plush floral arrangements, but never had the creation of anything remotely culinary tempted me. Ten years ago, a dinner party at my house meant an impromptu potluck, where my erstwhile contribution was delivery pizza. Literally, Dominos.
Everything changed the summer I spent studying at home for the California Bar Exam. Going stir-crazy and craving comfort food, I turned on the Food Network and decided that it couldn’t possibly be that hard to roast a chicken (particularly given that the entire process looked like it took five minutes on TV). Though it took a bit more than five minutes to roast the chicken, the results were more than worth the effort. After this experience, the call of the kitchen sounded fiercely. I realized that my passion for aesthetic wonderment extended to the edible after all.
I started posting my creations on Facebook via my Blackberry (eek!), and similarly culinarily-challenged friends asked me to start a blog that made seemingly difficult recipes easy, which is how Table + Teaspoon was born. With a little encouragement from mentors and my loyal blog following, I decided to leave the security of my corporate litigation job in 2013, and turn Table + Teaspoon into a catering, events, and interior design firm. The idea was to get my hands dirty learning the industry, and then figure out how to scale it into something national.
Before leaving the law, I spent three years hosting meticulously-decorated multiple-course dinner parties for twelve friends every ten days in my studio apartment’s dining room, until I was confident that my skill-set was on a professional level. Lacking that option for interior design and event planning, I offered my services at cost or insanely reduced rates (think $1/hr) while I was learning the business. I didn’t rely solely on trial-and-error, I also leaned on my friends for guidance. You’ll be surprised by how many people will feel inspired by your passion and want to share their knowledge with you. Chef friends, photographer friends, design friends, florist friends, startup friends, and accountant friends were all quick to respond to my 911 texts for help when I found myself lost in a completely new industry. Their tips were invaluable, and I undoubtedly wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.
How did the idea for a Rent the Table service start?
The specific idea for how to go about scaling into a traditional startup hit me the summer of 2015, while picking up my zillionth order from an enormous (and very unglamourous) party rental warehouse in South San Francisco. I thought to myself, in a city where you can order literally anything on-demand – flowers, dresses, tuxes, meals, chefs, groceries, cocktails, servers, sommeliers – why can’t you similarly order your tablescape? Pulling together everything you need to serve your meal can be more daunting than preparing the meal itself. So what if there was a website you could go to, put in your party date and the number of guests, choose from beautifully curated designs that include everything you need to set your table, get all of this on your doorstep with step-by-step instructions, and then box it back up and send it away when your party is over?
With this new idea in mind, I used my entire savings and a loan from my family to bootstrap the vision for a “rent the table” business model. This meant designing flatware and linens, forming relationships with glassware and China manufacturers, finding a suitable space to store, sanitize, and ship product, creating elegant boxes that would ship both ways without breakage, negotiating shipping rates, building partnerships, and relaunching the Table + Teaspoon site as an ecommerce platform with rental capabilities.
When I first imagined what my “rent the table” concept would look like, I envisioned 25 full settings and smaller options like gold flatware for people who wanted to use their own dishware. It turns out, people don’t like options. A few are fine, but too many is overwhelming.
I decided that six settings would allow me to provide enough aesthetic range without scaring people away. I also made each napkin double-sided so that the customer can pick which side they prefer for their particular party. For example, with The Cabot you can be whimsical with the octopus side, or classic with the navy and white trellis pattern. From there, I wanted an elegant neutral design (The Hadley); an on-point trendy design (The Monroe); a patriotic nautical design (The Cabot); a Thanksgiving/Christmas design (The Jane); a colorful playful design (The Lauren); and the always chic black and white stripe design with rose gold flatware (The Parker). Last month, I launched my seventh setting (The Stella) that is equal parts sophisticated and simple, with hand-painted linens and classic dishware.
Walk us through the Rent the Table process.
The process for using Table + Teaspoon for your next dinner party, bridal shower, or holiday couldn’t be easier. Simply go to the website, pick a design, enter the date of your celebration and guest count, then wait for the settings to arrive at your house two days prior to your event. Once you open the box, there is a step-by-step instruction sheet with pictures so that you will have no trouble setting the table. After you host the perfect party, put everything back in the box it came in dirty (yes, dirty) and send it away via a pre-paid FedEx label.
I feel the word ‘tablescape’ is now a household phrase, whereas ten/fifteen years ago it wasn’t as commonplace. Why do you think that is?
Data shows that half of Americans entertain one or more guests at home per month. This is up from years past, when people preferred to go out to bars and restaurants for get-togethers. As anyone who likes to have friends over will tell you – you only have to make the mistake of not having enough plates, forks, or glasses once before you realize the importance of having the tools required to make sure your guests are taken care of properly. While some choose to keep their entertaining aesthetic to the bare minimum, most hosts pride themselves on putting together gorgeous tables, which has propelled the word “tablescape” and “tablescaping” into everyday vernacular.
What are key elements for a perfect dinner party ambiance?
I could tell you to set the table the night before, or how to turn basic store-bought dishes into a fine dining experience – but that’s not the key to being the hostess with the mostess. What makes a dinner party go from average to amazing? I promise you, it’s not the finest caviar and best French bubbles, or Hermes china and your great grandmother’s freshly polished silver. When you entertain, you are opening your home to the people you love. You want to make sure that your friends see this the instant they walk through your front door. Give guests the feeling that you care about them being in your home and that you’ve put a great deal of thought into their evening – because this feeling is what they will remember. Entertaining is about the thought, not the execution. And no matter what happens, don’t forget to laugh. There’s always pizza delivery and more wine…
What are your dinner party pet peeves?
Back when I first started hosting dinner parties, I had a rule that anyone who dared to come into the kitchen before I was finished cooking would be cut by my paring knife. Just kidding… (not really). Fortunately, a dinner party in my home has come a long way since then. I soon realized that no matter how perfect my dishes turned out, if I just threatened my guest’s life for coming to say hello while I’m popping souffles in the oven – it’s simply not going to taste quite as good. So that rule quickly went out the window. Still, an excellent rule of thumb to avoid showing up early unless you’ve cleared it with your host.
What is the most memorable dinner party you’ve ever attended?
My favorite dinner party of all time was one I threw at my parent’s house in Lake Tahoe for New Years Eve a few years ago. I served an over the top opulent menu with ten courses, all perfectly paired with cocktails and wine by a sommelier. The group was an amazing mix because I knew all of the guests I invited well, but I didn’t know most of their significant others. This meant that we spent the evening sharing memories and learning about our new friends. After midnight, the dinner party turned into an impromptu dance party. We were awake laughing and dancing until the sun came up.