Throwing up a dinner party can be tough sometimes, but if you work it out smart, you can do it very simply and easy. All you can do is go an extra mile to be more organized with your planning to get the best arrangement for your guests. You can do a different arrangement of the guests’ seat positioning to make everyone feel comfortable. Anything else that makes a difference counts too.
Let the Bar Beckon
For the smoothest entry, give arriving guests a clear destination. A cart or a small table done up with essentials (plus flowers and a kooky conversation piece) is a friendly oasis, and it frees you to scurry back to the kitchen if needed. Try to offer bar access from more than one side, to prevent traffic jams. Stock generously (chill white wine two hours in advance) so guests won’t need to come looking for anything—ice, glassware, bottle opener, garnishes—but reserve some surface area for mixing drinks. Nobody wants to whip up a Manhattan in midair.
A place (card) for everyone
Seating plans may seem formal, but they actually make guests more comfortable. Think about who would benefit from particular placement: small children (seat near a parent), couples (split them up to encourage mixing), and hearing-impaired guests (reserve a quiet corner chair or seat them front and center, depending on personality). Then fill in the blanks.
Build a framework
Set up your dessert infrastructure—plates, napkins, forks—on a side table before the party. In the kitchen, stash a filled creamer in the fridge and have the coffeemaker ready for action. Serving only decaf saves a lot of trouble and makes most everyone happy.
A good dinner party is one in a well decorated setting. You can do it in a whole different way and let your party take place at the kitchen. You will only need to do a number of things quite differently to make it stand out. Think about the colors, some music, and don’t forget, a few candles make it just perfect.
Bring in warm colors
This may just be a personal preference, but I like to have one spot of warm color on the table. Food tends to be warm, and I like to set it off with a flower or two, or a colorful trivet or towel under one of the dishes. Once again — this doesn’t need to be something lavish, like a florist’s centerpiece. Snap a sprig of holly off a bush, or spread a few fall leaves under the candles.
Turn on the music!
Last but not least, don’t forget the music. What’s your favorite dinner party music? We’ve been dining to a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane lately, and for larger parties I like to play an iTunes mix of folk and Americana — Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, the Avett Bros. and more of their kindred spirits. We make sure the volume is low enough to easily talk over. The music fills in silences, and adds a sense of motion to the evening.
Light some (cheap) candles
Candles add movement and warmth to the table. I keep stacks of them around and burn a couple nearly every night at dinner time. This doesn’t need to be an expensive habit; I buy votive at IKEA, or look for glass jar candles like these, which when bought in bulk are super cheap and will last you a good long time.
You can do all you want with your dinner party, but there are some things you need to avoid at all costs if you are the one in charge. Too much concern over your guests’ dietary restrictions, relying on them to bring anything in contribution to your party or counting on them to wash the dishes are some of the things you need to avoid from the start to the end.
DON’T attempt a maiden voyage. It might seem like a good idea to try a new recipe for your guests, but there are few things sadder than realizing that the pork was supposed to have been butterflied by a butcher or rest for four hours…45 minutes before guests arrive.
DON’T go crazy worrying about guests’ dietary restrictions. Despite what we just said, you are their host, not their nutritionist. Special meals do not need to be prepared for each guest; just make sure there are options.
DON’T rely too heavily on your guests. Sure, they asked if they could bring something, but people have been known to forget things at home or be late. If it’s an essential item, like ice for the cocktails, you don’t want to be left in the lurch.
DON’T let the guests do dishes–unless they’re related to you or they’re compulsive. If they are neither, you might be calling their bluff on an empty offer, and then you’ve made your guest use your ratty sponge, which is not a very gracious experience.