~ By Danielle Lieser
In my senior year of high school, my father asked me if I would like to host a dinner party. I, of course, was thrilled with this idea, as I found no room in our house quite as beautiful as our all cherry formal dining room. My mother loved to entertain and her formal spaces were her pride and joy. So it was with enthusiasm and pride that I invited five guests and prepared a four-course menu. Over that summer, I believe I hosted three more dinner parties. I fell in love with entertaining and have never ended my romance.
Today’s world seems so hurried and fast that I rarely hear of a dinner party, luncheon or any form of entertaining outside of the typical milestone celebrations. Everything is about doing things quickly and easily. While that has its place, there is an elegance and grace about hosting a relaxed dinner that cannot be matched by “quick and easy.”
It all begins with the guests — a host and hostess know that proper guests enhance the night. Invite guests who are happy to be attend and ready to enjoy an evening of conversation, socialization and food (yes, there is etiquette for both hosts and guests). Once a guest list is settled upon, a hostess should decide if she plans to have a themed dinner party or just a lovely evening with great food and friends. Themes are always fun and can revolve around a time of year, current event, decorative theme or even the food selection. If the evening is to be themed, the hostess should provide her guests with notice of such. A postal invite is still appropriate to send, but email or phone calls are also acceptable. Good hostesses will also subtlety let her guests know the appropriate attire.
Food, drink and decorative touches are a must! These aspects will set the night apart from others, and first impressions are as important as ever. Make sure your home is inviting to the senses: offer bite-sized hors d’oeuvres and welcoming cocktails or beverages and have some soft music playing to complement the initial socializing. Add decorative touches to enhance your table, and also your other “public” spaces — candles, for example, offer a soft welcoming glow and indicate that it is a special evening.
Let your creativity run wild as you think of decorations. A lovely floral display is a lovely way to complement the occasion — try looking to Pinterest for floral inspiration. One of my personal favorite techniques is to fill vases of different sizes and styles with anything unique and interesting from around the house or local market: fruit, pine cones, acorns, flowers, or glass stones. Then, add candles to the vase or place votives around it, or perhaps insert flowers, leaves, herbs or glitter, and arrange the vases to flow all the way down the center of the table.
A dinner party is not the time to try out a new recipe. Stick to items you know well and often garner compliments when you prepare them. The dishes do not need to be fancy, but they should be delicious and there should be ample portions available. Choose a nice salad recipe, an entrée with crisp vegetable and starch and a decadent dessert are really all one needs. However, there is no right or wrong to the menu, as long as it is enjoyed.
Often it is the littlest touches that make the biggest impression. These little tips for hosting a dinner a party can have a big impact:
- Prepare as much as you can the day before so you can properly host your guests.
- Stock up on all essentials. Have extra nibbles such as nuts, pretzels, and chocolates, and plenty of ice.
- Make sure your restrooms are clean and sparkling, with fresh towels and toiletry items.
- As host/hostess, you should introduce all guests to each other.
- Hang coats in a coat closet, rather than throwing it in a spare room.
- Serve both red and white wine and offer mocktails (and have a chilled bottle of sparkling wine on hand, just in case)
- When a bottle of wine is brought as a hostess gift, it is appropriate to serve it that evening to guests.
- Present salt, pepper and other condiments in nice shakers or dishes.
- Cool your salad plates and warm your dinner plates.
- Offer dessert and coffee in another room or even outside.
Most importantly of all, stay relaxed and smiling. The host and/or hostess set the mood, and it should be a comfortable and enjoyable one. Allow guest to linger and chat after finishing their meal — there is no need to begin clearing plates immediately.
As the evening ends and guests say goodnight, thank each one for coming and make sure they are safe to drive. If everyone has enjoyed the evening, including yourself, you have just learned and revived a fading art — congratulations on a successful dinner party!