On Saturday night, while mingling at a Mardi Gras bash, a new friend (and the editor of a fabulous home/style magazine called Rue) asked me a tough question. She had heard that I throw amazing dinner parties and wanted to know what my top three tips are for planning the ultimate dinner. She totally caught me off guard and I didn’t really know what to say. I’ve spent the past couple of days pondering her request and finally have decided the three most important tips for hosting a smashing, memorable, and successful dinner party. Here they are!
1. Create a party atmosphere. For a party to be triumphant, it must feel like a party. Your kitchen and house should not be like they always are. Light candles, set the table with a tablecloth and good china, use cloth napkins, play mood music, fill the room with fresh flowers, put on a dress. If it’s a themed dinner, decorate with the theme: clovers and green for St. Patrick’s Day, eggs and pastels for Easter, sombreros and Mexican candles for Cinco de Mayo, etc. Rearrange furniture to make more seating or a larger dining table.
Do everything it takes to transform your living space from everyday to party day. Pay attention to the little details and take time to write out the menu!
2. Make your guests feel special. The best hostesses throw the best parties, right? While everyone has different hostessing styles, there’s one common denominator to great hostesses: they make their guests feel comfortable, loved, and like they are one in a million. There’s lots of ways to make your guests feel exceptional.
For example, you could start with the invitation. Instead of using evite or Facebook, send a paper invite in the mail. If it’s a more intimate affair, call and personally invite them over the phone. Considering your guests’ diets when planning the menu is another way to let guests know you’ve been thinking of them and want them to have a good time. If a couple people are vegetarians, offer a mostly vegetarian menu and serve a meat appetizer as one of the starters. A gluten-free friend coming to dinner? Create a menu that has no flour, so she can enjoy everything without feeling left out. Know a friend who is crazy about Cava? Pick up a bottle and ask her to open it when she arrives.
3. Have copious amounts of wine, beer or cocktails. Alcohol loosens people up and gets the conversation flowing, so stock up on plenty of wine, beer, or cocktails. Although what you pour depends on the occasion, crowd, and menu, I always have wine. Even if I’m serving a cocktail, most people will only want one or two to start, then they’ll enjoy a glass of wine at the table. When serving a cocktail, I normally offer one specialty libation, in the form of a punch or pitcher drink. Mixing cocktails takes time and you don’t want to end up with a sore arm from shaking a million drinks. When offering only wine, I like to have sparkling wine, white wine, and red wine all on hand. I always buy one more bottle than I think I’ll need. For example, when the guestlist consists of a couple of my (Champagne-guzzling) girlfriends, if I think two bottles will be enough, I’ll purchase three. When men are in attendance, I like to have one or two craft beers on ice and plenty of bold red wine. If your guests are good ones, they will inevitably ask, “what can I bring?” To this question I answer, “wine or beer.” It’s the perfect way to ensure that you won’t run out.
You’ll probably be surprised to see that food is not on this short list. While I’m a huge fan of cooking and love making all of the items I serve at a dinner party from scratch, I do not believe you need to be an advanced or even experienced home cook to host a wonderful dinner party. You should think about the menu and make sure that everything you offer is delicious, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be homemade. You shouldn’t not throw a dinner just because you don’t know how to cook. There’s plenty of options for the non-cooking hostess.
Hit up Whole Foods and make an entire meal from the prepared food section; order an assortment of pizzas and salads from Pizzeria Delfina; or hire an acclaimed chef from Kitchit to do the dirty work for you.
You also might be taken aback by the fact that I do not mention anything about planning. While I’m a huge planner and love planning a dinner party well in advance, I’m also a giant fan of the impromptu dinner party. It’s thrilling to wake up on a Saturday and decide to host a dinner that night.
Another thing that I wanted to point out, for those who are obsessed with home decor or who have recently moved, is that I don’t believe your house has to be “finished” in order for you to host a dinner party. Ideally, your house will be clean and uncluttered and everything should be unpacked, but bare walls are no reason not to have a party. I’ve always thought of my home’s style like I think of my personal style. I’m constantly updating my closet, whether it be getting rid of old clothes or bringing in new pieces and my home is the same.
I’m continually updating the design of it, thus it’s never really finished, so it’s no excuse not to have a dinner.