The Perfect Dinner Party
There is something very special to hosting a successful dinner party and creating lifelong memories. Here are a few tips to pulling off a great evening.
Having an accurate guest count is essential for a successful dinner party. Sending out formal invitations is a great way to remind your guests to RSVP and set the tone for your party. For a formal dinner party, send out your invitations three weeks in advance, and ask guests to respond no later than one week prior to the event. Knowing your guest count a full week out will provide ample time to plan the menu, grocery shop, and prep. Also, keep in mind that dinner parties are meant to be intimate, so invite a maximum of 8-12 guests for this type of gathering.
A beautifully set table is the perfect start to a delicious and welcoming meal. Grab some fresh flowers from the local market the morning of the dinner and arranging some fresh lightly scented blooms as centerpieces. As a general rule, keep floral centerpieces low enough that guests can talk over them. You don’t want your guests straining their necks while trying to make conversation. If you are preparing a romantic candlelit setting, stick to non-scented candles so the scent doesn’t interfere with the tastes and smells of your food. Set the table early in the day, before you begin cooking. It’s an easy step to get out of the way and will be “eye-candy” for your guests when they arrive. Have a small space? If you don’t have a large enough dinner table to host a big gathering, bring in a folding table for the night and cover it with an elegant table linen and a nice centerpiece.
Assigned seating for a smaller informal dinner isn’t a requirement these days. For a larger or more formal setting it can help the conversation flow more effortlessly. Take some time and consider which guests may have the most in common and seat them next to each other. You will find the rewards knowing that you are responsible for a beautiful new friendship between your guests. Assigned seating has the added benefit of being able to create some beautiful place cards to complement the table setting and floral centerpieces.
The best ambiance for your dinner party is the addition of music. Be sure to keep the volume low enough so it will not over-power conversations. Try to stream from an online option such as Pandora Radio or iTunes Radio, so you don’t have to keep changing a CD or repeating your mp3 playlist. Try the Indie Alt-Folk station for a casual dinner party and jazz or classical music for a more formal or intimate event. Many Western Europeans and Americans will appreciate classic holiday tunes between November and December.
Have fun and enjoy the evening! Pull out your best aprons and all of those expensive and intriguing kitchen gadgets you have pushed to the back of the drawer. Embrace being the host/hostess like you were born to be. If you have something unique to your country or region, be sure to set it out as a conversational piece for your guests. A nice souvenir for guests to remember their evening with you is a take-home recipe of your meal. It’s something they can share with their friends and family when back home. If you are guest, a pretty apron or nice set of kitchen towels makes a perfect host/hostess gift.
Serving hors d’oeuvres when guests arrive will provide some extra time to finish cooking while they mingle. A platter of local cheeses with fresh bread or crackers and a platter of crudité is not only quick and easy, but allows you to display local and seasonal favorites. Personally, I’m partial to a delicious platter of Crostini. Place your hors d’oeuvres at different points throughout the living or dining area to keep guests from crowding in one corner and to encourage them to feel more at home.
Be sure to ask all of your guests ahead of time, if they have any food allergies or dietary restrictions. You don’t want anyone to have a disappointing experience or to feel awkward refusing food. This is not the time to experiment with a new recipe; stick with recipes you have made before. Your guests will appreciate a simple, home-cooked meal and a chance to taste the local flavors. If you’re in need of culinary inspiration, try browsing the Hospitality21.com recipe index or tweet @HipHospitality for some ideas and suggestions.
Be sure your guests night will end on a sweet note by serving dessert. You can go elaborate and serve a cake or pie, but sometimes a simple pudding served with fresh fruit will present just as elegantly. If you are spending more time preparing the main meal, keep dessert simple and dress it up with the presentation. Place cookies, cupcakes and other petit fours on an elegant cake stand. Offer coffee or tea to cleanse palates. Be sure to prepare decaf if you’re only making one pot.
Don’t go overboard with drinks. Stick to basic local wine and perhaps one signature cocktail to keep things simple. If a guest asks to bring anything, have them bring their favorite bottle of vino. If you don’t have a full set, a dozen inexpensive wine glasses are worth the investment.
Hosting guests should be as enjoyable for you, the host/hostess, as for your visitors. Be sure to relax and enjoy the time with them. Dishes can be done the next morning. Tonight, enjoy the good company. If your guests are intrigued by the cooking, have them put on an apron and learn to prepare your recipe. Make memories.