There are few things better than sitting down at a beautifully-set dining table. Coming together with your loved ones to share a moment over delicious food and good conversation is one of life’s simplest pleasures.
However, the art of planning the perfect dinner party is an acquired skill. A fancy dinner party is not like your average work party at the office or family Christmas party. Most of us are guilty of making dinner and plonking ourselves on the couch, without considering our guests. Set up some nibbles, bring out the beverages and let everyone gravitate to the T.V. Right?
No, wrong. When you’re having people over, taking the time to prepare a nice table is worth the effort. So, if you’re in the process of planning a dinner party, here are several tips you need to remember to ensure your party goes off without a hitch!
1. Choose a theme
The first step is to decide what kind of atmosphere you want your dinner party to have. Will it be a laid-back Mexican fiesta featuring traditional bean enchiladas or a formal Japanese affair with home-made sushi?
The theme you choose will determine the kind of setting you create, and your options are virtually limitless – so get creative and have fun with it! Make sure you also determine what colour scheme you want so that you can coordinate your table setting.
2. Determine who you will invite
Like any party, you want to have a solid idea on numbers. Make it clear on the invitations when the RSVP date is so you don’t have many people popping in at the last minute (however, you should always account for a few last-minute cancellations or appearances). Make sure that you seat couples together (if you’re planning on having set seating) and avoid putting people close together if you know they don’t get along too well!
3. Outdoor or indoor?
If you have a nice outdoor area, then it might be worthwhile having the dinner party outside. However, if the area isn’t well sheltered, be prepared for inclement weather conditions. If you don’t want to take the risk, just stick to an indoor setting. Remember that you’ll probably need outdoor heaters during the winter months! Likewise, you’ll want plenty of bags of ice and eskies to keep your drinks chilled on those steamy summer days.
4. Double check dietary requirements
Dietary requirements should be finalised well before the event. However, just in case someone has forgotten to disclose their allergies, send out a quick email to everyone coming as a reminder. The last thing you need is to prepare beef or chicken dishes, only to find out that someone is vegetarian or vegan. Give yourself time to make some quick arrangements.
5. Tell your guests to bring nothing
Unless you have a set arrangement with a group of friends, it’s always best to tell your guests to bring nothing. The whole point of hosting is that you provide the bulk of food and drinks. Make sure your guests know that they are welcome to bring something, however, it is hardly required. As a side note, most people will bring something as gratitude for hosting anyway!
6. Cover your table
Once you’ve chosen your theme and have an idea on numbers, the next step is to find a suitable tablecloth and set the table. This step isn’t always necessary – if you’re having an outdoor or garden event, for instance, an uncovered wooden table can look great and add rustic charm to your setting.
Tablecloths can really help set the mood of your dinner party, so make sure you choose one based on your theme. White lace can add a romantic touch, whereas colourful, floral coverings add vibrancy to springtime or summer parties.
7. Set your place mats
Place mats are an easy way to add sophistication and style to any dinner table. Keep your colour-scheme and theme in mind when choosing your place mats so your welcome table looks flawless. Some great ideas include bamboo for Japanese dinners, rope for beachy dinners, and tree slabs for rustic dinners. Make sure you have enough places for all your guests!
8. Place your plates
Aim to use high-quality, long-lasting dinnerware. Materials such as porcelain and china are ideal as they are strong, lightweight and will last a lifetime (assuming no one drops them).
Choose designs based on your party’s colour-scheme and theme. Handmade, colourful Moroccan plates look stunning in a Moroccan spread but are probably going to look odd in an Art Deco one, so choose wisely. You may also want to include an additional smaller plate depending on what food you’re serving (e.g. a butter plate if serving bread).
9. Lay your cutlery
Unless you’re eating burritos, you’re probably going to need some cutlery to help you eat. High-quality silverware is a timeless option, but you may want to opt for a quirkier alternative like chopsticks, faux gold or eco-friendly bamboo cutlery.
Place the forks to the left of the plate and the knives to the right (the knife blade should face the plate). If you’re using spoons, place the spoon to the right of the knife. Chopsticks should be placed in a chopstick rest to the right of the plate or bowl.
10. Set glasses and beverage pitchers
No dinner table is complete without drinks! If you plan on serving water or juice, a quality tumbler or highball glass are your go-to options. This isn’t a children’s party, so alcoholic beverages will be appreciated by your guests.
For fine-dining affairs where you want to serve alcohol, opt for an appropriate wine or cocktail glass. Make sure you use well-made, durable glasses which are less likely to break or chip.
Set each glass in the top right corner above each knife and place your pitcher(s) in the middle of the table. Make sure the drinks have been poured before your guests sit down.
11. Style your napkins
A neatly-folded napkin is the icing on the cake of a well-set dining table. Start by choosing a colour and style that matches your dinner party theme. Good quality cloth napkins are the best choice as they are long-lasting.
Next, get your origami on and start folding! There are plenty of tutorials online where you can learn how to fold an impressive napkin. You can place each napkin beneath the fork or on top of the dinner plate.
12. Add the finishing touches to the table
The next step is to jazz up your dining table with a bit of décor. Start with selecting a centrepiece – they’re a great way to highlight your efforts and impress your guests. Get creative with your centrepiece; you might want to use exotic fruits, a bouquet of fresh wildflowers or a quirky fishbowl.
Surround your centrepiece with additional décor like candles (or more flowers) and, if you’re feeling generous, add place card favours as gifts to your guests. Finally, add anything else you want to feature on your table – things like salt and pepper shakers, butter dishes, and gravy or sauce boats.
So, there you have it! Creating an aesthetically-pleasing yet functional dinner table setup is easier than you think (it’s perfecting your dish that’s the tricky part). With a bit of practice, you’ll be a table-setting expert in no time.
13. Start cooking in advance
When the big day finally comes around, make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to cook. Consider that you’ll need to be greeting guests as they arrive, so it’s worthwhile having a friend or a few to help with the cooking (particularly if the food needs to be monitored often).
14. Have nibbles and canapes ready
Some of guests may be hungry as they arrive. While you can’t get stuck into the main course until everyone has arrived and settled, you can certainly keep everyone satisfied with a few nibbles here and there. Some simple watercress crackers with dip, smoked salmon, prawn spring roll wraps, hamburger sliders or small quiches will always go down well.
15. Have a television on
If you’re hosting on a Friday or Saturday night, there is a good chance that there will be a sports fixture on. Keep in mind that some of your guests might be interested in the match, so keep a television on so your guests can keep updated with the scores.
16. Be flexible
The perfect dinner party won’t be flawless. Things won’t always go exactly to plan. Dinner might be 20 minutes late, some of the canapes may not be as popular as you thought, or someone might be very late to the party. It doesn’t matter, just remember that these things happen, and you just need to go with it.
17. Have fun!
It sounds obvious but remember to have fun! You’re having a party, so enjoy yourself! Don’t get bogged down in all the planning – just relax and keep an open mind.