Dinner parties can range from low-key and intimate, with only a few friends and family, to being an elaborate affair with dozens of guests and fancy dress. Whatever the occasion, dinner parties are a great way to show off your skills — both in and out of the kitchen.
A great deal of planning and effort goes into a dinner party, so it’s best to start at the very beginning: invitations.
Invitations are useful in many ways.
The most obvious is to alert people to your event, and provide all the details they’ll need to actually turn up on the day. It’s also a written reminder that the event is happening, so they are less likely to forget.
But one thing that is less known about invitations is that they also set the tone of your event. Choosing the right kind of invitation to match the kind of dinner party you’re hosting is also very important. If you’re looking to organise something funky and fun, your invitations should reflect that with bright colours and pictures. If you’re hosting a more formal event, try something a little more elegant and understated.
Personalised stationery - William Arthur Fine Stationery, Flickr
In this digital age, people may have grown accustomed to invites via social media — Facebook notifications and text messages are now used in place of traditional invitations. But if you want to make your event stand out as that one, amazing dinner party everyone remembers, you should give a lasting impression from start to finish.
Of course, if you don’t want to print out your invitations, why not try an email invite? Create the personalised invitations on your computer, and then email it out to all your guests. It’s faster, and more convenient, while still having that extra personal touch.
Placemats versus Tablecloths
It’s not strictly an either-or situation, but you should have at least one of these on your table.
Placemats are best used in a more intimate setting, or parties with fewer people, or with a simpler, more casual theme. They break up the line of the table and emphasise the table top, so it is usually used without tablecloths.
Placemat setting - Mack Male, Flickr
Tablecloths provide a sense of uniformity to a table setting, offering more elbow room, and conserving space at the dinner table. It has the added function of insulating the table, and thus reducing the noise level in the room, and can be used in a variety of formal and informal settings. The type of tablecloth used is indicative of the formality of the event — based on colour, pattern, dinnerware texture, and room decor.
Etiquette Scholar suggests a plain white, ivory, or ecru tablecloth with a smooth texture and subtle patterns for a formal event; this compliments the smooth textures associated with fine dining. Informal events tend towards bright, bold, and loosely woven, heavier fabrics, especially when using coarser dinnerware.
Tablecloth setting - Michael Lehet, Flickr
Do not underestimate the power of selecting the right dinnerware. The overall atmosphere of your event should be reflected in the plates, cutlery, glasses, and napkins.
Formal settings tend towards a cohesive presentation, to minimise distractions from the food, and are sometimes decorated with gold, silver, platinum, or other precious metals. These, together with dinnerware made from porcelain, the hardest ceramic, and bone china, the strongest, must be hand-washed and are not microwave safe.
Plain, white dinnerware is the most versatile of all the choices, as it is easy to match, largely inexpensive, microwave and dishwasher safe, and is great for presentation. Mix-and-match styles are great when you select the right colours and textures. For colour, it’s good to create a blend, such as various shades of blue, or a contrast. Patterned and glass plates are also a good combination.
Choosing between whether to use paper or cloth napkins is also dependent on your event. Cloth napkins are generally used in more formal settings, to match the tablecloth, while paper napkins are more informal. The size, colour, and design of the napkins should also follow suit.
The key is balance. Etiquette Scholar suggests a ratio of two-to-one for simple and ornate dinnerware — that is, two patterned to one plain, or vice versa.
Rather than talk about the kinds of foods to have at a dinner party, which is entirely up to you as the organiser, let’s talk about how to organise it.
Will you be cooking the entirety of the meal, from appetisers through to desserts and drinks? Will your guests be bringing along their own contributions, or will there be catering?
If you’re working with contributions from guests, figuring out who brings what, and when, is the most important part. You would obviously want to avoid too many people bringing along the same course, leaving nothing for another, and you definitely don’t want courses arriving at the wrong times.
Toasting the entree - Didriks, Flickr
Decide on this beforehand. Let people know, or include it in the invitation, and make sure to keep track of who is bringing what. Perhaps work on a rotational basis, if dinner parties are a regular occurrence — people can take turns in providing different courses at each event, so everyone gets a chance to provide each course without fear of clashing.
Try to make sure the first course, appetisers and entrees, are assigned to the people who will arrive earliest. This could also be yourself. You don’t want them to turn up after everyone else, or halfway through the meal, with what should have been your first course!
These are some of the most basic, essential elements to help you start planning your dinner party. In the next part, we will talk about the logistics of setting up for your dinner party, including layout and cleaning.
In the meantime, what are some of your tips for organising a successful dinner party? Share it with us here at Foodi!