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Eat, drink and be merry

From place settings to party favors, here’s how to host a dinner party everyone will be buzzing about.

Story By Michaela Satterfield

A good dinner party is like the backdrop of a play. You may not consciously think about it, but it creates the setting for all the magic of the play to take place. At dinner parties the people around the table, the stories shared and the new memories made are what everyone remembers afterward. The décor, and even the food, is simply there to make it all happen. We’ve rounded up some tips to create a memorable dinner party, so all you’ll have to worry about is creating the magic (and planning the menu).

Course one: Set the scene

A sweet ambiance

Nothing is more inviting than a house filled with a comforting scent. If your candles are starting to feel cliché, try stovetop potpourri. All you need is a saucepan filled with water and a few ingredients. Some ideas include orange peels, cranberries, flower petals, pine needles, lemon slices, rosemary or cinnamon sticks. Put your favorites in the saucepan and simmer on low heat as long as you wish. 

Center of attention

Set the tone of your chosen décor theme with a centerpiece. Select a few pieces like cake stands, candles, lanterns or trays. Gold and clear glass are two trending materials. Accent with greenery, branches, seashells or flowers. If your style is modern, consider choosing something more minimalist, such as a sculpture, for the centerpiece. Once your design is complete, matching other décor or dishware to the centerpiece is an easy way to make sure the rest of the design is complementary.

Dropping names

To make your guests feel special, arrange a seating chart based on who you think will enjoy talking and add a name card to mark each spot. Including this small detail in your place settings shows extra thought and care that your guests will be sure to recognize. Name cards can be as simple as a small, folded piece of cardstock or as elaborate as a full menu with a wax seal. Choose stationery that matches your décor. Print names on the stationery, or try your hand at calligraphy for a handmade feel. 

Course two: Dinner time

Dish It out

The tableware everyone is raving about at the moment is simple – plain white dishware. If stark white isn’t your style, consider cream dishware to warm things up. Place it alongside gold or bronze utensils to complete the look. Simple tableware allows your other décor – or the food and drinks – to do the talking. 

Pretty place settings

While we’ve already discussed name cards and tableware, it’s the accents that will take your table to the next level. Linen napkins create the opening act of the meal once guests are seated, so choose wisely. Napkins are a chance to add a pop of color without overdoing it. Greenery is also in style, so look for subtle ways to incorporate the trend such as placing a sprig of greenery in a napkin ring. Play with texture using placemats. Handwoven options will give your table an approachable, natural feel.

Go with the flow

The way you pass out or arrange food is often a last-minute decision. Get ahead of the game with a plan. If you want to formally serve the food, designate servers ahead of time and make sure they know where everything will be for smooth transitions. Remind them to serve on the left. If you go with a buffet style, map out where everything should go to keep traffic flowing smoothly between the kitchen and dining room. 

Course three: Making memories

Strike up a conversation

A good meal isn’t complete without good conversation to go with it. Your carefully planned name cards should help get the good times rolling, but some pre-planned conversation starters couldn’t hurt either. Browse the internet for ideas and write them on slips of paper. Place them in jars – one for each end of the table. Take turns drawing conversation starters to take the party beyond small talk.

Be on your game

In case the conversation starts to go stale, be prepared with some game ideas to liven things up again. Have some cards on hand for classic card games, or keep a stack of board games nearby. Games like charades can be played on the fly, with no planning required. Be sure to read the room before introducing a game to see if it’s a good time.

Return the favor

Thank your guests for coming with a souvenir they can take with them. You can’t go wrong with the classics – candy, mints or customized glasses. Or, take the opportunity to get creative. For outdoor parties send guests home with a small flower bouquet or a blanket they can use while they’re there if it’s a little chilly. Hand out drink mixes, coffee or tea bags to give your guests something to sip when they get home. Leave out a Polaroid camera that guests can use to take a snapshot of the night that will preserve it forever.