How To Be The Perfect Hostess This Holiday

TableSettings_052113_176Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
From her laid-back, effortless style to a fresh, ahead-of-the-trend beauty aesthetic, Lauren Conrad is a girl after our own heart. So, each week, the born-and-bred California girl and editor-in-chief of will share with us her insider secrets and personal musings. Plus, check out her visually stunning guest pinning here! Next up, Lauren shares her tips for hosting a perfect dinner party.
With the holiday season right around the corner, it’s the perfect time of the year for entertaining. I’ve talked about throwing a holiday soiree on the blog before, but today I wanted to share some tips for throwing a dinner party. I love hosting larger parties and celebrations, but there’s something special about an intimate, grown-up gathering…
Having an accurate guest count is essential for a dinner party. Sending out formal invitations is a great way to remind your guests to RSVP and set the tone for your event. I’m a big fan of Paperless Post, which has some adorable designs and is also the eco-chic thing to do. (How cute are these designs for a holiday party?) For a formal dinner party, I recommend sending out your invitations three weeks in advance, and asking guests to respond no later than a week before the event. Knowing your guest count a full week out will leave you ample time to plan your menu, grocery shop, and prep. Also, keep in mind that dinner parties are meant to be intimate. I’d recommend inviting a maximum of 8-12 guests for this type of gathering.
Table Setting
A beautifully set table is the canvas for a delicious meal. I love going to the flower market the morning of my dinner party and arranging some fresh blooms for the centerpieces. If you are having floral centerpieces, the rule is to keep them low enough that guests can talk over them. You don’t want your guests craning their necks just to make conversation. I also love a candlelit table, but stick to non-scented candles during a dinner party, since you don’t want to interfere with the tastes and smells of your food. BHLDN is a great place to look for cute cocktail napkins, striped straws, and other little details. I recommend setting the table early in the day, before you even begin cooking, since it’s an easy step to get out of the way. Tip for small spaces: If you don’t have a big enough dinner table to host a large gathering, bring in a folding table for the night and cover it with an elegant table linen.
HorsDoeuvres03_10_main_MariaDelRioPhotographed by Maria Del Rio.
Assigned seating certainly isn’t a requirement these days, but it can help the conversation flow more effortlessly at larger parties. Put some thought into which guests have the most in common, and seat them next to each other. It’s always fun to play matchmaker or be responsible for a beautiful new friendship. Plus, assigned seating means the opportunity to craft some cute place cards to complement the table setting.
Music is one of the easiest ways to create an ambiance for your dinner party. Keep in mind that while background music prevents awkward silences during the meal, the volume should be kept low enough that it won’t interfere with conversation. I’m a big fan of iTunes Radio for all types of gatherings. The indie alt-folk station is great for a casual dinner party, and jazz or classical music work well for a more formal event. Classic holiday tunes are also fun this time of year. Here's a playlist I love!
Preparatory Measures
I have a collection of pretty aprons from Anthropologie and The Little Market that I like to wear when I’m playing hostess for the evening. They’re cute enough that I can keep them on once guests start to arrive, if I’m still putting the finishing touches on the meal. If you’re the guest, a cute apron also makes a great hostess gift.
Hors D’oeuvres
Having hors d’oeuvres set out when guests arrive will give you some extra time to finish cooking while guests mingle and munch. A cheese plate and a platter of crudité is my go-to, but I’m also known for my decadent bacon wrapped dates. Set out platters at different spots throughout the living or dining area to keep guests from crowding in one corner of the room.
DessertMara_Home_Edits_MollyCrannaPhotographed by Molly Cranna.
Make sure that you’ve asked all of your guests ahead of time if they have any food allergies or dietary restrictions. You don’t want anyone to go hungry or feel awkward refusing food. Also, stick with dishes you’ve made before. The day of your dinner party is not the time to experiment with that elaborate soufflé recipe you saw on the Food Network. Your guests will appreciate a simple, home-cooked meal as much as something more gourmet. When I’m in need of some culinary inspiration, I always browse the Recipe Gallery for ideas.
Dessert is the best way to ensure that everyone’s night will end on a sweet note. I love baking pies, but not every meal requires an elaborate ending. For me, dessert is just as much about presentation as it is about taste. So, if you’re spending more time on the meal and want to keep dessert simple, you can dress up basic cookies or cupcakes by placing them on a pretty cake stand. It’s also nice to offer coffee or tea with dessert. If you’re only making one pot, decaf pleases most everyone after dinnertime.
Cocktail05_06_action_Shot5Photographed by Maria Del Rio.
Sticking with wine and one signature cocktail (like one of these yummy Malibu Island Spiced drinks) keeps things simple and classy. If guests ask you if they can bring anything, have them bring along their favorite bottle of vino. If you don’t already have a full set, it’s worth investing in a dozen Ikea wine glasses to use anytime you host a large gathering.
Hosting a dinner party should be enjoyable for the hostess, too. Once your guests have arrived, relax and enjoy yourself along with them. Resign yourself to the fact that dishes can be done the next morning. Tonight, enjoy the good company, delightful ambiance, and delicious food you put so much work into. And, if it really bothers you to have pots and pans sitting in the sink, place everything (even items you plan to hand wash later) in the dishwasher temporarily. This will get them out of the way for the night. Or, take up a friend’s offer to wash. Grateful guests are truly happy to help.
Will you be hosting any dinner parties this season? What’s on your menu?
XO Lauren

More from Entertaining

We teamed up with Pinterest to help you find the Halloween costume of your dreams. Take a spin on the Hallo-wheel for a new idea (or 10) every day
It’s called the city that never sleeps for a reason. On any night of the week, New Yorkers are enjoying a cocktail, a dance party, a special meal, a ...
Kids these days aren't just chatting on cell phones and wearing cooler clothes than you, they're also throwing better parties. At least, that's the case ...
This time of year just calls for a party — a night of mistletoe and merrymaking. But, if you’re like most city dwellers, you suffer the fate of a tiny ...
What's it like to attend a Kardashian-West cookout? Would Kanye spin tunes? Would Kylie come by with all four of her dogs? Sadly, we may never know. But ...
There ain't no party like a puppy party and thanks to an Atlanta animal shelter, every party you throw can now include adorable little puppies. ...
When it comes to throwing an insane Fourth of July bash, no one holds it down quite like Taylor Swift. Considering it’s one of the singer’s favorite ...
New Year's can be a super-stressful time. The possibilities are seemingly endless — one friend suggests renting a table in the club and getting bottle ...
Each December, we try to outdo the brilliant, last-minute solution we thought up last year for all the people on our lists who appear to have ...
It's hard to be the host. With a large crew of family and friends at your house, someone is bound to spill something — maybe even you. There's a snail ...
The 25th Anniversary issue of Martha Stewart Living hits stands next week — no minor feat when some of the biggest names in media have been forced to ...
Halloween was a lot easier when you were a kid. Not only was it cool to dress up, but there were so many events designed especially for you. We're talking ...
Back in 2012, it was reported that the average New York City wedding cost $76,687 — which was a whopping $48,000 higher than the national average. So why ...
You've got a lot to celebrate. Refinery29 and Paper Source are joining forces to make one lucky winner the hostess with the mostest. You'll be the life — ...