Dinner Party 101

As far as parties go, I’m a dinner party kind of gal.  I mean, as opposed to a cocktail party kind of gal.  Whether it’s hosting or attending, I always prefer a small intimate dinner party over a large, loud, walk-around cocktail party.  Although I seem to have this illusion of attending some swank soiree, wearing the perfect LBD and 4″ heels, and not caring that I have nothing to say to the other guests because I look oh-so-fabulous.  Right.  Like I would ever be caught dead wearing 4″ heels.  And let’s be honest.  When I throw a dinner party, I’m usually wearing slippers.

I think I have issues with cocktail parties because I’m not a very accomplished mingler.  Small talk tires me.  I much prefer sitting around a table, with a group of close friends or people I want to be close to, and talking.  Really talking.  And telling stories.  Even the same story told over and over, which seems to happen with our circle of friends, is preferable to me over idle chit chat.

So, when we entertain, we throw a dinner party.  Sometimes they are big and fancy affairs (in which case I wear shoes rather than slippers).  But most of the time they are low-key, with the focus on the guests and the food rather than the brouhaha of a larger crowd.

If you want to throw a dinner party, here are some of our lessons learned over the years.

A Good Plan is Half Your Success.  Even if the plan is to order pizza, it’s good to have a plan.  Have a plan and then work the plan.  Figure out the menu and then figure out how and when you’ll get everything done.  Then, come dinner time, you’ll have your wits, and your sense of humor, still with you.  And this will make you the perfect host/hostess.

Size Matters.  In my opinion, 6 – 8 guests is perfect for a dinner party.  10 – 12 can work, too.  More than that, and it quickly loses the intimacy and you might as well go back to a walk-around and mingle kind of party.

Plates and CandlesServe Within Your Comfort Zone.  If a less than perfect dish is your idea of a complete disaster, then don’t attempt to make something you’ve never made before.  Stick to what you know.  Or at least practice beforehand.

Don’t Stress the Small Stuff. Something doesn’t have to be elaborate to be lovely.  Sometimes I use a tablecloth (which may or may not be ironed depending on my mood) and sometimes we just use place mats.  Sometimes there is a nice, floral centerpiece and sometimes there is just a candle or 2.  We attended a nice dinner party one time where the hostess used a sheet to cover the table.  And one of the best desserts I ever served came from a local bakery.  If you’re thinking you can’t host a dinner party because you don’t have time or budget for fancy, then rethink it.

Leave Procrastination for Another Day.  Do what you can ahead of time.  Like setting the table.  Or cleaning the bathroom.  And definitely do the shopping ahead of time.  Leaving everything to the last minute will just make you stressed and cranky.  Or at least that’s what it does to me.

Start the Party at the Door.  From the moment guests walk through the door, let your home say “welcome.”  Get that music playlist started and candles lit before guests arrive.  (I always like to have a candle or small light in the bathroom so when guests need to use the loo they aren’t fumbling around in the dark trying to find the light switch.)  Drinks should be ready to serve and, if you’re serving an appetizer, it should be ready to go as well.

You’re the Cruise Director.  You don’t need a whistle and clipboard, but just remember that people expect to follow your lead.  You need to get them to the table when it’s time to eat.  Pour the wine, or direct someone else to do so, when it’s time for wine.  Clear the plates when people are done eating and bring in the dessert when you want them to eat it.  And, if you want the party to end, stand-up, stretch and start doing the dishes.  Your guests will get the hint.  We’ve entertained some very successful and high-ranking business people that, at the office, are always the ones taking charge.  Yet, at a dinner party, these people will sit, as if unsure of their next move, until someone says, “It’s time for dessert!”  It’s your party.  You get to be the one that calls the shots for once.

Happy Entertaining!

Centerpiece  Candleholders


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4 responses to “Dinner Party 101”

  1. BudH says:

    Slippers…Sounds sexy to me:)

  2. Alex says:

    Do you ask your guests to take their shoes off at the door? We do.

    • Hostess says:

      We don’t actually ask guests to take their shoes off. Many do, without us asking. But we leave it up to them.

  3. Alex says:

    We actually always remind guests to bring their own slippers.

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