by Renee Franklin
Great dinner parties don’t just happen — it takes a willing and savvy host to create the magic that makes for an evening for the ages. Whether you are hosting a holiday soiree or having friends over for dinner, follow these simple tips to ensure you, and everyone else, get the most out of the celebration.
Prep Your Space
First things first, decide where in your home you want your party to take place and which areas are off-limits to guests. This ensures you don’t have to go overboard deep cleaning your entire house—just the rooms your party people will use. Stock your bathroom with toilet paper, air freshener and clean hand towels; and hang sign so everyone knows where it is. Lastly, designate an area for coats, purses and shoes, whether it your front entrance or you living rooming.
Repurpose Your Decor
As a host, you are opening your home to be enjoyed by your guests. Instead of running out to buy brand new decor, utilize what you already have. Turn an oversized planter into a tub for icing beverages, turn mason jars and glassware into makeshift lanterns with a tea candle and use mirrors to plate appetizers.
The right music goes a looooong way in setting—and maintaining—the mood of your party. Now isn’t the time to flaunt your niche music interests; go for something upbeat and universally enjoyed. Think 1960s’ girl groups like The Ronnettes, The Supremes and The Crystals.; or classic singers like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington; or American R&B like Archie Bell & the Drells, Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry.
Have a Beginning and an End
We all know (or are) that person who shows up “fashionably late” or “exceptionally early.” Make your invitations clear with beginning and end time. Give your guests an hour to an hour and a half to arrive before dinner starts. Set your end time to accommodate the enchanting time after food is digested, the last cocktails are being poured and coffee is ushering intimate conversations, the likes of which can only happen after a dinner party well had.
Forgo Fussy Food
Unless you are hosting an elaborate, multi-course sit down meal, keep the food options simple. Have a couple of appetizers stations (cheese board, anyone?) set up so people can graze until the main event. Keep dinner just as simple— lasagna, slower cooker roasts or chicken are all foolproof and delicious. For the sides, you can’t go wrong with salads, roasted veggies and rolls. Make it interactive with a taco bar or a pita pizza station where guests play chef, top pitas with their choices from a slew of ingredients, and enjoy a cocktail while their personal pizzas cook to perfection. Which brings us to our next point:
Ask your guests to bring their own alcohol. This saves you the headache of spending time and money catering to different tastes and ensures your guests have exactly what they want to drink. Set up a drink station with an ice bucket, glassware, bottle openers, a place to stash the goods and, most importantly, water. Whether you have the bottled variety available or a carafe of flavored water, keep your guests hydrated and from asking you, “May I have some water?” every time they are thirsty. When dinner concludes, make a pot of coffee and water for tea to segway into post-food conversation and lounging — often the best part of a dinner party.
Simplicity reigns here. Unless you are a renowned baker treating your guests to your impeccable skills, keep desert light. A bowl of fruit, whip cream and cookies is more than enough to tie off the dining portion of the evening.
Good conversations are the fulcrum of an enjoyable gathering; after food is eaten and cocktails are consumed, the conversations we had and the connections we made will persist in our memories as time goes on. Help the words flow between your guests by facilitating a post-dinner discussion: Have each guest write a question for the group on a piece of paper to draw out of a hat. Push your guests to write queries that will allow them to truly get to know one another, such as, “If you could have any career besides your current one, what would it be?”, “What is one thing you want to accomplish over the next year?”, or “What are you great at?” Scatter these questions throughout the evening and give each guest two minutes to answer.
Keep it Casual
Perfection isn’t the goal, but rather, connection. The above tips will cultivate a casual and relaxed atmosphere in which guests will be able to enjoy you, your home and each other with ease.