It's All in the Details: Creating the Perfect Dinner Party

A truly memorable evening requires a bit of planning.

Many dinner parties put together at the last minute come out just fine, but in my experience, it's all in the details; a truly memorable evening requires a bit of planning. Organization gives the hostess more time and energy to enjoy the evening. Here are some tips to making sure the last little detail is set before guests arrive.

Add layers of color to make your table come alive. A solid patterned table is also beautiful. Muted, tonal tables are elegant. Holiday tables should be festive and whimsical.

Prep in advance, which allows time to lay the table, the menu and the mood. Start party prep at least 2-3 days prior; pull out platters and serving spoons, use sticky notes to label, which will be used to serve each dish. I learned this little trick from my Mom, and it will insure that you do not forget to serve a sauce or side dish (yes, it’s happened to me). I actually found roasted potatoes I had made, the morning after a dinner, in my warming drawer!

Have plenty of everything on hand. At a recent dinner party, we had guests go back three or four times for our Slow Roasted Pork Wraps.

Put thought into your guest list. Creating a good vibe is essential to the success of a great dinner party. Consider inviting people who get along well or, better yet, who don’t know each other at all. Make sure you assemble the list wisely and that people stand to have at least a few things in common. Mix it up and avoid sitting couples together; add a single friend or two. Some of our closest friendships have been made through dinner party introductions. For an intimate evening, six to eight is the perfect number. And always introduce your guests!

Take care with your menu. Ask guests if they have any dietary restrictions before deciding on a menu. Use seasonal ingredients available in your area. Never try a new recipe at a dinner party! And always make a great dessert. 

Take time when setting your table. How many guests are you having? Do you have enough chairs, plates? If not, combine a few different options to create a new look. It’s all about layers. Start with a place mat, then a charger, followed by a dinner plate, etc. Plastic and paper are for picnics! Have proper flatware, glasses, salt and pepper, water and wine on the table.

Iron your linens. Crisp linens lay better than crumpled on your lap. If using white or delicate fabrics, consider tucking a paper napkin into the linen for your female guests to blot lipstick and to preserve your linens. 

Use place cards. This is a nice way to make your guests feel like they have scored a first class seat, and are welcomed and expected. It also gives the hostess an opportunity to mix up the seating. As a nice touch, write names on both sides of the card, to aid in remembering names of those seated opposite. 

Mix it up with your centerpiece. Flowers are great, but try something different like sprigs of fresh herbs in water glasses. For a rustic Italian dinner, use an emptied can of San Marzano tomatoes, with label in tact, filled with fresh basil, or a banana leaf filled with fresh fruit and nuts that can be used as dessert. Get creative!

Serve appetizers. Weather permitting, consider serving appetizers outside or if seated, family style on platters to promote sharing. Mixed nuts and salty plain chips are always nice at the bar.

Create a specialty cocktail that you can prepare ahead, create a self-serve bar or ice a variety of bottles in a creative container, allowing guests to help themselves. Offer cocktails as people walk through the door. Have some non-alcoholic options such as tropical tea, fresh juice or sparkling water. Waiting around for a drink is only tolerable at a busy bar!

Select a play list. It’s not fun to play DJ during a dinner party. The music should be loud enough to be audible but not so loud that it competes with conversation. Use it to set the theme, if you are serving Italian, play Italian music. Have the music playing as guests arrive and until the last guest leaves.

Create the perfect mood. The mood of your dinner party is as important as serving delicious food. Have a drink during the last-minute preparations to loosen up before guests arrive. The host or hostess sets the mood. Light some candles, but avoid scented candles in the dining room and kitchen; ambience and food scents don’t always mix. Freezing candlesticks the night before will eliminate wax drip on your table. Dim the lights inside, and turn on entry, walkway and outdoor lights.

Facilitate conversation. As the hostess, do not discuss topics that exclude any of your guests. Sit talkative people towards the center of the table to help carry conversation.

Consider favors or host/hostess gifts. As a special touch, have small favors for your guests to take home. 

Stock your powder room with individual guest towels, scented liquid soap, a candle or reed diffuser and some flowers. If you have space, a small dish of individually sealed mints or hard fruit candies such as Glitterati. Remember it’s all in the details. Avoid messy bar soaps and re-usable towels, although individual, single use linen towels are always a nice touch!

Make sure to clean up. Never allow guests to do dishes; it is not fun to dress up for a party and then have to clean up at the end. Always start your party with a tidy kitchen and an empty dishwasher to make clean up easy. Don’t be quick to clear plates after dessert, as it often ends the party mood.

Surprise your guests. After dessert is served and just when guests think they’ve had all the fun, bring out a small dish of specialty chocolates, offer a taste of wonderful new liquor or an unexpected frothy flavored cappuccino. It’s a treat to try something you’ve never had before.

Final note: Do not keep your guests waiting at the table. As the host, if you serve yourself last and consequently are not seated at the same time, then offer a toast welcoming everybody and asking them to please start. If you entertain frequently, keep a copy of the menu, seating, wines, cocktails and guest list for each party to insure that you do not repeat the same magical evening twice, and with the same people, of course!

Remember it’s all in the unexpected details. Happy dining!

Tabletop and accessories available at Amen Wardy Home.

Soffia Wardy writes and speaks on food, entertaining, travel and lifestyle at to inspire and entice you to live a delicious, stylish and adventurous life! 

See also:
6 Inspiring Party Ideas for Fall
Fall Harvest Party

Categories: Entertaining