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.
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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.
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!
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.
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.
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 LaurenConrad.com 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.
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?