How to Host an Elegant Dinner Party
We’ve all had friends over, and perhaps even thrown a dinner party or three. Somewhere between the cheese board and chocolate cake you became curious about how to turn an average dinner party into an elegant dinner that is a night to remember for your guests. If we were to sum it up in one sentence, it would be “Be uniquely fearless, and honor timeless traditions.”
Uniquely Fearless for an Elegant Dinner
However you host your dinner party, it should be elementally you. If you love pink polka dots, then by all means integrate them into your design plan for your dinner party. If you’re urban chic, keep it minimalist and classic. Do what makes you happy, because a joyful and relaxed host is one who will inspire a most collegial evening of laughter and great memories.
The fearless part comes in throwing some new ideas into the mix… most especially in the area of what you choose to serve. Caviar and champagne is always a most elegant way to get the evening truly underway, so consider having a selection for a tasting. Many people have limited to no experience with caviar the way it should be presented (as a superb-quality, stand alone treat, with lightly toasted points), so the bold act of partaking will liberate your guests, and you can absolutely count on them remembering your elegant dinner forever if it’s their first true “caviar experience.” While we are naturally partial to caviar, we also love to serve charcuterie, foie gras, and smoked fish for an exceptional evening.
The one area where it’s wise to temper your fearlessness is in the overall strategy. If you are catering the rest of the cuisine, or have a personal chef in charge, as long as you’ve made a wise decision as to whom to hire, all should go well. If you are preparing the meal yourself, and the courses you’d like to serve are new to you, it’s best to keep the group to intimate friends, because it removes the performance pressure. Once you have prepared this stunning multi-course elegant dinner experience successfully for your friends, you can then replicate it for your spouse’s boss and other important people you’d like to impress!
Honoring Timeless Traditions
If you’re a fan of old movies, you’ve likely admired the lovely grace that seemed to come so naturally to many of yesteryear’s stars of the silver screen. They should have poise - many went to finishing school where they learned French, ballroom dancing, and how to comport themselves at the dinner table at all types of dinner parties. Most of us in today’s world haven’t had that advantage, and to be honest, some of that training would be put to limited use today. The one skill we can all use is how to throw an elegant dinner party while keeping the overall plan inviting to guests.
The first critical item is crafting the perfect invite list - and then enticing them to say yes, amidst oft-frenetic schedules. If you are a lover of traditional forms of communication for special occasions, then an engraved or handwritten invitation, mailed with a thoughtful stamp, is always a good idea. Here’s an area where, if the group is right, you can be playful and creative with the medium and how it all comes together. If you want to stick with digital, then consider going beyond ubiquitous online invitation platforms because they give the impression that “this is an average get-together”. Get creative, and show your guests just how much you want them at your dinner party. Regardless of your approach, if your guests feel you poured a lot of effort into inviting them, it increases the chances they’ll be thrilled to attend your dinner party.
Now that you have guests, here’s how to the stage for success:
If you haven’t already, invest in quality china, stemware and extended flatware place settings, older is fine and often even better quality than more recent vintages. Often earlier generations leave this to the younger ones, but often it isn’t valued. Adopt a full set if you get the opportunity, or look at one of the websites that offer out-of-production patterns. You might also consider mixing it up a bit, with different patterns, as long as it’s done artfully to all pull together.
- For china, you will need
- Charger (optional)
- Dinner plate
- Salad plate
- Bread plate,
- Soup bowl
- Coffee cup and saucer
- Large serving pieces
- Specialty servers such as caviar tin presentation pieces
- For flatware, the basic pieces are
- Stemware should include
- Water glass
- Red wine glass
- White wine glass
- Champagne flute or vodka flute – either beverage perfectly complements a caviar adventure
The general rule is: if it’s going to be served or offered, it should be at every place setting, including all four stemware. If you aren’t serving soup, naturally the soup bowl and spoon will not be at the place setting. (Tip: if you are serving soup, use the soup spoon scooping away from you to be most proper.) If you are serving bread, there should be a bread plate and butter knife at every place setting.
Flatware should be arranged with the first-used to the outside, working inward as courses progress. You may place up to three knives (blades facing inward) to the right and three forks to the left at each place, to account for salad plus the first and main courses, if you are serving all three. Dessert spoon and fork go to the top of the plate, one above the other, in opposite directions (tines right, bowl left).
Napkins should always be cloth - even for daily use, trust us that you’ll fall in love with this small elegance! - and may be artfully folded and placed in the center of the plate, unless a soup bowl is presented in that spot. If so, fold neatly and place to the left, outside the forks.
In Seeking Grace
One final word of advice: by planning ahead (and doing ahead as many things as possible) you will be more relaxed and able to effortlessly produce a night to remember, moving about with grace and poise.