Today we'll describe some of the seating / serving arrangements used at the park holiday dinners we have attended. In the park described in the previous post, the meat (turkey or ham) was prepared by one member of the table group. In all the other parks the kitchen staff or a group of volunteers prepared the meat (and sometimes some traditional side items, such as dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce). Of course, the participants paid a fee for these items. If table groups were used, the meat, etc. were served on platters, etc. to each group. I especially liked it when the turkey was prepared by one of the table group members. Then the leftovers were divided among the participants. (When the park kitchen staff prepared the main course, there were usually no leftovers at each table.)
By far, the least desirable method of serving was when no table groups were used and all potluck dishes were put on one long buffet table. As people arrived, they placed their potluck dish on this serving table, located their seating area at the tables, and began their wait in the standing serving line. We stood in line for almost one hour! After going through the buffet line, people arrived at their table at different times – thus there was little table conversation. In short, we thought it was a disaster of the first order.
We've also experienced a variation of the above approach in which each table was assigned a number. As people arrived they located a table and sat down. Then, following table grace, random numbers are drawn to identity the order to enter the serving line. This approach works reasonably well. However, with a large group those going through the line first are ready for seconds before the last people are even served. Also, sometimes those that were served early were wanting to leave with their potluck dish almost immediately after the last person was served, thus giving the tail end group limited opportunity for seconds. In short, the group was too large for one buffet serving line!
In another park, we signed up in table groups of twelve. In this case, they were using six-foot tables, with the two tables placed side by side. Thus, we had three people on two sides and three people on each end. Any way you cut it, the people on the ends are usually very uncomfortable, especially if they are of any size. My knees are quite a distance from my hips, thus if I'm seated at the table end the table legs clash with my knees and I can't get close to the table. Another disadvantage with this arrangement is that the food is served family style – and large potluck dishes are sometimes awkward and heavy to pass around the table.
Another disadvantage to this side-by-side table arrangement is that it's difficult to visit with anyone other than your neighbors at your side, often one of them being your spouse. The room noise prevents across-the-table visiting. Our experience has been that tables with four or six makes it possible for everyone to be involved with the conversation. With round tables of eight (or square tables of twelve), across-the-table conversation is nearly impossible, usually because of room noise or the hearing impairment of many seniors. Also, when two people try to carry on an across-the-table conversation, they usually speak so loud that everyone else feels they need to be quiet. The net result is very little conversation between members of the group. Thus, one is left with visiting with your spouse and your other neighbor.
When table groups are determined by sign-up, I like the more formal arrangement where your spouse is not seated right next to you. This provides opportunity for more varied conversation. (This pre-assigned seating arrangement, done with place cards, is a detail usually handled by the table coordinator. It's the type of seating arrangement used at formal White House functions.) With our preferred setting of sixteen people at two long tables, the couples were split with the spouses seated on opposite sides of the table.
Yes, we have an opinion and we've tried to express it. These last two postings are even "Sandy Approved". The weather has warmed here in Casa Grande finally, so everyone is in a good mood.