I love to entertain and people always ask me what the secret is to throwing the perfect party. Today, I will focus on elements for a mid-sized dinner party for 6 to 12 people. Now, for any gathering to be successful, you will need what I call ‘the Fab Five’: Atmosphere, Drink, Food, Company and You.
Creating an atmosphere for a successful event will include elements such as lighting, music, decor and any other elements that will enhance the atmosphere of any gathering. Focus on what the guests with see, smell, feel (tactile and emotional). Candles are usually a good idea, creating soft, forgiving lighting and hiding a multitude of sins! Music should not be too noticeable if you want to encourage guests talking, but just enough to create an ambience. Flowers can be a nice touch, but, really almost anything can be used to make great centerpieces.
Give your guests something to drink within 5 minutes of their arrival – wine, a martini, beer, champagne – just something! And always remember to have something for people who do not drink alcoholic beverages. Water and soda will not cut it! Get creative: seltzer with fruit garnishes is a very simple mocktail idea. (A ‘mocktail’ is a virgin, or non-alcoholic cocktail). You can find other mocktail ideas on many websites online. Don’t have people drinking for more than one hour before dinner is served – your guests will either drink too much, or get too hungry. It’s called cocktail hour for a reason! Have about one bottle of wine per guest and probably a little more red than white. According to Esquire’s The Big Black Book – and in my experience – red wine drinkers will generally not switch to white wine, but white wine drinkers might not mind as much.
Once your guests have drinks, have some hors d’oeuvres ready for them. Crudités with an assortment of dips are always a good idea, so is a fruit and cheese platter. But of course, you can make stuff as well. You are only limited by your creativity and how much time and effort you have available at your disposal. But don’t give your guests too much to eat, otherwise, your painstakingly made dinner will go to waste!
If you are cooking dinner yourself, never, ever, try to make a dish you have never prepared before. Anything could go wrong. If you want to try something new, do a practice run first to make sure you can get it done the way it’s supposed to be before you try making it for your guests. Also make sure you ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions so you can plan your menu with that in mind.
If many of your guests will be strangers to one another, invite people you think have something in common. That way, you are free to interact with all your guests without thinking you need to babysit anyone. And, for the love of all that’s good, don’t invite people who don’t like each other or are not talking to each other! It’s safe to seat people in boy-girl-boy-girl fashion, but I prefer to separate couples and place people next to someone they may not have met before, but will have something in common. And, next to them, I’ll seat someone they already know, just in case they need an out, if my hopes for connecting new people didn’t work!
Finally, you should plan your prep time so you can spend as much time as possible with your guests and not trying to get things done. You need to enjoy your party as well. Your guests came because of you. Don’t drink too much, so you can be alert. Just be your charming self, enjoy your company and everything else will fall into place and be just fine.