“There is nothing that makes me happier than sitting around the dinner table and talking until the candles are burned down.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Circle of Quiet
Dinner parties. I would love to ask the question of what comes to mind when the phrase “dinner party” is expressed because depending upon so many factors – culture, familial experience, region of the country in which you live that you lived in and do now, and many more – we each have a perception of what a dinner party entails.
Having grown up in a household in which my mother would carefully plan the day, and pleasurably set the table, all the while knowing exactly when certain dishes should be made, put in the oven, etc. I saw it as a positive experience. My dad was and still is a great host, welcoming and entertaining guests while my mom finishes getting dressed now that all of the food and settings are prepared.
Since then, I have enjoyed meals with my mentor from time to time in Eugene, Oregon, and each dinner party I attended, she served in courses – appetizer and cocktails enjoyed in the living room next to the fire, the second and main course served in the dining room, followed by the dessert, and often it would end back in the living room as we unwound with a cup of hot tea or espresso/coffee.
My travels to France have only confirmed the joy of a dinner party that pays no mind to time, and while often the idea of courses is received as a pretentious idea, I have enjoyed it casual and higher end experiences and have found it a good idea for my waistline as I take the time to savor the food.
Now everyone’s approach to a dinner party will be different, but choosing to host a dinner party is something I have always enjoyed doing, although I haven’t done as much entertaining in Bend as of late which is why I decided to host one just this past weekend before Thanksgiving with a small group of friends and colleagues.
I let go of the need to feel as though I had everything “just right” in my home (in fact, I had to bring an extra table in as I no longer had a large dining table as I sold it before my move to Bend), and I reminded myself that the impetus to have a dinner party is to share good food with people you enjoy being with and want to either get to know further or offer a moment during our busy lives to relax and simply enjoy our time together without expectation.
It has been my experience hosting dinner parties in the states that some people are quite happy to enjoy a meal they do not have to cook, others are curiously surprised by the multiple dishes that keep coming, but whether the food is exactly as I had hoped or not, our time yields some lovely conversation and connection that doesn’t always happen in our brief interactions during our days.
1.Begin with something bubbly upon guests’ arrival
Whether you have a preference for Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Sparkling Wine or Sparkling non-alcoholic beverages, or maybe even a special bubbly cocktail, have it prepped and ready for guests as soon as you take their coats and clutches. Once they have something in their hands they will relax more quickly whether they are sipping quickly or not. The goal is to bring ease and let them know they are welcome.
2. If guests, ask what they can bring, have a simple idea that is inexpensive and helpful to you as well
While as a host/hostess, we don’t expect our guests to bring anything but themselves and their witty repartee, but we are also told as guests to ask. So if a guest asks, so either have an idea of what you might want or reassure them that indeed you truly want them to come, relax and enjoy.
3. Order a couple more wine glasses than you will have guests
If you are like me, you have broken a few wine glasses over the years while cleaning them or in the middle of dinner as dishes are being passed about. Even if you typically have small dinner parties like myself 4-6, having eight is always a good idea for that extra guest you want to invite and for that moment you realize you broke your sixth glass last time you had a dinner party.
4. So long as you have a tablecloth . . .
It really doesn’t matter what table (or tables, in my most recent case) are beneath it so long as you have a tablecloth, or cloths, that unify. Find a simple linen table cloth (H & M is selling beautiful simple white, taupe, navy and stone linen tablecloths on sale), and you are set to create a signature and inviting dining table for your guests.
5. Buy plates in sets of 6-10 whenever and wherever you buy them
One of the many details that caught my attention while dining for lunch each day with Patricia Wells was that there was always matching plates for each course, but that didn’t mean that each course’s plates had to match the next. Whether you find them at second-hand shops, brocantes, on sale during the holidays at Crate & Barrel or Sur la Table, if you see a beautiful soup bowl set, scoop them up. Having enough plates for each courses makes it easier on the host, as you aren’t cleaning during the meal, and a beautiful way to present your food as well.
6. Ditto for placemats
While you may never know where or when you will find placemats that catch your eye, having them at the ready is a great idea to, again, create an inviting dining table. I found a few on Etsy you might also gravitate toward.
7. I love serving the meal in courses
As I mentioned at the top of the post, I gravitate toward serving courses when I invite guests to dinner. If its a cocktail party or a casual gathering, buffet style is a better fit, but when it is dinner, as I share in this detailed post, I do love serving courses: more time with my guests, more time to enjoy the food and more time to just savor the simple pleasures of food, conviviality and life.
8. Make sure to have something for those who don’t drink alcohol
I have made this mistake before and since I don’t drink much more than water, tea or orange juice, have found myself in a pinch for those rare guests who don’t drink. Whether it is a sparkling apple cider or sparkling water, have something bubbly and new for all of your guests to enjoy from the beginning of the evening to the wee hours of the night.
9. Add a natural touch to the powder room (even if it is never used)
Just a simple bud vase with a freshly cut bloom is all that is needed, but it freshens up and brightens up the room, letting your guests know they are indeed in the correct bathroom as often, they are new to your home. Sometimes I add a candle as well.
10. Have a supply of extra (comfortable) folding chairs when necessary
I adore my tufted linen upholstered chairs which I have had for years (many readers saw them for the first time in my previous home here), but I do only have four of them and am not in the budget space to purchase 2-4 more (perhaps someday). But in reality, all I need on an everyday basis is four, so having nice, comfortable folding chairs that can be easily stored is a good idea for those of us who live in smaller homes without the grand room for the large dining room table. My mom has been very helpful on this front, helping me find a few that integrate well with my aesthetic, are comfortable to sit in and are as well quite sturdy. Here are a few ideas for nice foldable chairs to peruse.
Choosing to have a dinner party is often something to plan ahead letting your guests know so they can make available the date, but not always. If you are ready with these simple tips shared above, you can call people around for a wonderful meal in a matter of days, as your home is ready. Simply add trusted, delicious food and the evening will be quite a treat for all (host included).
~TSLL’s New Book was just released! Living The Simply Luxurious Life: Making Your Everydays Extraordinary and Becoming Your Best Self (available on Amazon, and wherever books are sold. As well, signed copies can be ordered here on the blog).
~SIMILAR POSTS/EPISODES from the Archives You Might Enjoy:
~episode #168: French Everyday Living with Author & Blogger Sharon Santoni (2017)
~Save 25% off your purchase with promo code CYBER18 (free shipping too!)