Many dinner parties put together at the last minute come out just fine, however, in our experience a truly memorable evening requires a bit of planning; it is all in the details. Organization gives the hostess more time and energy to enjoy the evening, when it arrives.
Add layers of color to make your table come alive. A solid patterned table is also beautiful. Muted, tonal tables are elegant. Holiday tables should be festive and whimsical.
Prep Start party prep at least 2-3 days prior; pull out platters and serving spoons, use sticky notes to label, which will be used to serve each dish. I learned this little trick from my Mom, and it will insure that you do not forget to serve a sauce or side dish (yes it’s happened to me). I actually found roasted potatoes I had made, the morning after a dinner in my warming drawer.
Have plenty of everything on hand. At a recent dinner party we had guests go back 3 and 4 times for our Slow Roasted Pork Wraps.
Guest List Creating a good vibe is essential to the success of a great dinner party. Consider inviting people that get along well or better yet that don’t know each other at all. Make sure you assemble the list wisely and that people stand to have at least a few things in common. Mix it up and avoid sitting couples together, add a single friend or two. Some of our closest friendships have been made through dinner party introductions. For an intimate evening, six to eight is the perfect number. Always introduce your guests!
Menu Ask guests if they have any dietary restrictions before deciding on a menu. Use seasonal ingredients available in your area. Never try a new recipe at a dinner party! Always make a great dessert! See sample menus below. Visit EAT for recipe ideas.
Table How many guests are you having, do you have enough chairs, plates? If not combine a few different options to create a new look. Take time when setting your table, it’s all about layers, start with a place mat, then a charger, followed by a dinner plate etc. Plastic and paper are for picnics! Have proper flatware, glasses, salt and pepper, water and wine on the table.
Linens Iron your linens, crisp lays better than crumpled on your lap. If using white or delicate fabrics, consider tucking a paper napkin into the linen for your female guests to blot lipstick and preserve your linens. For additional tips, take a look at Love Your Linens.
Place Cards Using place cards is a nice way to make your guests feel like they have scored a first class seat, are welcomed and expected. It also gives the hostess an opportunity to mix up the seating. As a nice touch write names on both sides of the card, to aid in remembering names of those seated opposite. For more on this see Perfect Party Mix: The Who and Where.
Centerpiece Flowers are great but try something different, such as sprigs of fresh herbs in water glasses. For a rustic Italian dinner, use an emptied can of San Marzano tomatoes, with label in tact filled with fresh basil, or a banana leaf filled with fresh fruit and nuts that can be used as dessert. Be creative!
Appetizers Weather permitting consider serving appetizers outside or if seated, family style on platters to promote sharing. Mixed nuts and salty plain chips are always nice at the bar.
Cocktails Create a specialty cocktail that you can prepare ahead, create a self-serve bar or ice a variety of bottles in a creative container, allowing guests to help themselves. Offer cocktails as people walk through the door. Have some non-alcoholic options such as tropical tea, fresh juice or sparkling water. Waiting around for a drink is only tolerable at a busy bar!
Music Select a play list, it’s not fun to play DJ during a dinner party. The music should be loud enough to be audible but not so loud that it competes with conversation. Use it to set the theme, if you are serving Italian, play Italian music. Have the music playing as guests arrive and until the last guest leaves.
Mood Creating the perfect mood is as important as serving delicious food. Have a drink during the last minute preparations to loosen up before guests arrive. The host or hostess sets the mood.
Ambience Light some candles, avoiding scented candles in the dining room and kitchen; ambience and food scents don’t always mix. Freezing candlesticks the night before will eliminate wax drip on your table. Dim the lights inside, turn on entry, walkway and outdoor lights.
Conversation As the hostess do not discuss topics that exclude any of your guests. Sit talkative people towards the center of the table to help carry conversation.
Favors & Hostess Gifts As a special touch have small favors for your guests to take home. As a guest never show up empty handed, even if the hostess tells you not to bring anything. Be creative; bring a jar of homemade jam, a bottle of port, a fun kitchen gadget, maybe a favorite new book. Be creative, the intention here is simply to show the hostess appreciation for their efforts.
Powder Room Stock your powder room with individual guest towels, scented liquid soap, a candle or reed diffuser and some flowers. If you have space, a small dish of individually sealed mints or hard fruit candies such as Glitterati. Remember it’s all in the details. Avoid messy bar soaps and re-usable towels, although individual, single use linen towels are always a nice touch!
Clean Up Never allow guests to do dishes, it is not fun to dress up for a party and then have to clean up at the end. Always start your party with a tidy kitchen and an empty dishwasher to make clean up easy. Don’t be quick to clear plates after dessert, as it often ends the party mood.
Surprises After dessert is served and just when guests think they’ve had all the fun, bring out a small dish of specialty chocolates, offer a taste of wonderful new liquor or an unexpected frothy flavored cappuccino. It’s a treat to try something you’ve never had before…
Final Note Do not keep your guests waiting at the table. As the hostess, if you serve yourself last and consequently are not seated at the same time then offer a toast welcoming everybody and asking them to please start. As a guest always either call the next day to thank the host or send a hand written note. If you entertain frequently, keep a copy of the menu, seating, wines, cocktails and guest list for each party to insure that you do not repeat the same magical evening twice, with the same people of course!
Remember it’s all in the unexpected details, Happy Dining! Tabletop and accessories available at Amen Wardy Home.