3 Must-Haves for a Great Dinner Party

As an event planner here in our great city of St. John’s, I frequently am asked how I handle the stress of managing all the details of an event. The truth is, whether you are throwing a wedding reception for 300 or an intimate dinner party for 8, the process is the same. There are 3 must haves to reduce your stress and heighten the enjoyment of the evening for both yourself and your guests – prep, ambiance, and food. When inviting friends or colleagues into your home for the evening, follow these tips and you are sure to create a beautiful night for everyone involved.

Prep, Prep, Prep!
Did I mention prep? One of the key elements of stress reduction for me in the event planning industry is to do as much of my work as possible before the day of the event itself. You’ll want to send out a simple invite for the party prior to planning your menu. Be sure to check with guests for any food allergies or dietary restrictions and set an RSVP date no later than one week before your party. Once you hear back with your attendance you can plan your menu and do your grocery shopping early in the week so that you’re not feeling run down from errands the day of your event.

I like to chop all my fruit or veggies, mince garlic, make any marinades, etc. the night before. That way, when it comes time to cook, you can just toss everything in without have to take time to peel veggies, throw away scraps, and take the garbage out before your guests arrive. Set your table before you start cooking so that you’re not rushing to complete that last step as people are walking in the door. The aim of the game is to take as much of the busy work for the event off your plate so that you can relax and enjoy your guests once they arrive. If your guests sense that you are happy and relaxed, they will be too.

Ambiance
Now I know part of my profession is event décor, but who doesn’t love to see a beautifully set table? Be considerate of your guests when completing this task. Keep centerpieces low and in a tight cluster so as not to obscure their view during conversation. This will also help keep table clutter to a minimum. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you can’t even pick up your wine glass without knocking something else over.

If you wish to use candles or tea lights – which I highly recommend – keep them scentless so as not to compete with the smells of the delicious meal you have prepared. Dim the lights and scatter some more candles throughout the room to give your friends or colleagues that flattering glow. In event décor, lighting is everything. The simple change from a bright overhead light to the warm glow of a dimmer switch option can completely change the mood of your event.
Pick out a great playlist that you can set and forget for the evening. I love Songza for this, as they have pre-arranged playlists you can choose based on your mood, type of event, or favorite artists. This takes time and pressure of creating a custom playlist off of you or your significant other and allows you to relax and enjoy your evening without popping up and down to change the song every few minutes.

Food & Drink
Once you have any allergy or dietary restrictions confirmed, you can plan your menu. When it comes to dinner parties, my motto is, stick with what you know. Having a house full of people is not the setting to try out that fancy fish dish you’ve had buried in your Pinterest pages. Choose something you are comfortable and relaxed with and that you know your guests will love.
If you plan on setting out some hors d’oeuvres, don’t go overboard. You want to entice your guests to the table, not leave them feeling full and over stuffed on the cheese plate. Scatter two to three small spreads throughout your event space so as to avoid cluttering all of your guests in one area of the room. I usually do a nice cheese plate and hot dip with veggies for a little teaser before dinner. Have these set out prior to your guests’ arrival so that you are free to serve drinks as they trickle in.

When it comes to beverages, don’t overwhelm yourself with a full bar. Most are satisfied with a nice glass of wine. So I personally like to stick to wine and one signature cocktail rather than fussing with a variety of different alcohols and mixes. During a trip to London, England last spring, I tried a nice light drink that has been a hit at every one of my gatherings since. It consists of sweet liquor, some 7UP or Sprite, and a nice array of fresh fruit. This provides both a beautiful look when served from a classic jug or punch bowl and is a proven hit with the masses. I hope you’ll relax, kick back and enjoy these tips with a nice cold glass by your side!

Pimm’s Cocktail
Strawberries (halved)
Orange, Apple, Lemon, and Cucumber Sliced
Fresh Mint Leaves
1 cup Pimm’s
2 cups lemonade
1 cup Sprite or 7UP

Andrea HounsellAndrea Hounsell is the owner and lead planner of Something Borrowed, Something Blue, a business that provides a combination or solo service of planning, decor, and live music for events throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, with a focus on St. John’s.  To learn more, visit www.sb2events.org or email info@sb2events.org.  You can also check them out on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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