November 17th, 2013 under
Entertaining, Holiday, Inspiration, Inspirational, New Year, Styling, Tablescape, casual dining, etiquette, fine dining by
One of the many great thrills I get out of life is hosting festive dinner parties with a beautifully set dining table and a room filled with treasured friends and laughter. I wholeheartedly appreciate the art of the dinner party, and the thought and time that one takes to create such an enjoyable ambiance and experience for others. I too love to go all out. Whether it’s something as simple as a Superbowl party or an elegant evening, I love the entire process of entertaining. It’s not about trying to impress others; it’s my way of creatively expressing myself. The table is my canvas and I am the painter.
Recently, my celebratory balloon was deflated when I experienced a less than enthusiastic reception to a thoughtful, beautifully conceived dinner. So when I stumbled upon this New York Times article Guess who isn’t coming to dinner, this really struck a chord. Is the art of the dinner party endangered? Has the time of those who pride themselves on their gorgeous tables & culinary delights, competing to populate them with lively strivers who do their social networking not on tiny, glowing screens, but cheek to jowl? Are the days of fine china, cut crystal and fancy silver long gone? Will dinosaurs walk the earth before elegant dining is revivified?
Today’s world is so hustle bustle; everyone’s busy, and many don’t like commitment. We meet at a restaurant because it’s faster and easier, which is wonderful, but it’s impersonal. Restaurants don’t cultivate the warmth and intimacy of a pleasant, lingering dinner in ones home.
Admittedly, at first I was feeling a bit miffed and defeated, but perhaps it’s more of a lesson in knowing your target audience to articulately craft the proper dinner party. Different strokes for different folks, right? There’s the Budweiser clan, and then there’s the champagne & caviar clique. But what do you do when you want to everyone to commingle? Is the art of the dinner party as simple as forgoing the formality of the little black dress, and instead throwing you’re your hair up in a chignon, pulling on a pair of skinny jeans, heels and a glittery top? If only it were that easy.
Over the holidays my dinner party void was reinvigorated when a wonderful friend of mine had an exquisite holiday party. He truly knows the art throwing the perfect dinner party. The table was set to perfection with the finest linens and wares, and the meal was a sublime, homespun culinary feast that was absolutely divine. I was glowing with sheer delight. I had died and gone to dinner party heaven.
This event has catapulted me into planning my next dinner party. This entire crowd of old and new friends are most definitely on the guest list. These are the friends that enjoy a great chili cook-off, as well as a five-star, elegant affair. They appreciate effort and elegance on all levels, and they will grace my every dinner table; formal and informal.
Throwing a casual or elegant dinner party doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive. All it takes is a little passion, creativity, organization…or as Nate Berkus well knows, setting a mean table!
Create a memorable occasion that will keep guests talking long after the party is over. Keep things simple & stress free by doing the majority of the work prior to party time. Plan out and design your event. If possible, send out handwritten invitations; it’s such a lost art that people will appreciate it. Lists, lists, lists; make them and check them twice.
Keep your menu simple and stick to the items you do best. This isn’t the time to try new recipes. Be sure to include a couple of vegetarian items on your menu. Create a printed menu. It’s a nice touch and guests will know exactly what’s on their plate. Don’t overdue hors d’oeuvres. Make sure guests leave room for the fabulous meal you spent hours preparing.
There are plenty of high school and college students who would love to make some extra cash. If you can afford it, hire a server for the evening to keep things moving and clean and you out of the kitchen.
No time to prepare? No patience for cooking? Even if you’re ordering take out from your favorite restaurant, kick it up a notch and get creative. Pick up a bouquet of flowers. Light candles. Use unusual objects, decorative platters, and your finer things to set the table and serve up the meal. Your guests will think you slaved for hours, and will appreciate every ounce of effort.
For quite a while I threw regular Sunday Suppers at home and one Sunday I hosted a homespun Mario Batali inspired dinner where I recycled 30 wine bottles for candle holders and various shaped tomato cans for flower vessels. I threw an artisanal & charcuterie platter together and sat on the sofa rolling gnocchi while entertaining my guests. Everyone got such a kick out of the day. This was one of my top 10 parties, and friends are still talking about it.
Have fun designing a festive tablescape to set the mood. Set the table the day prior this way you can enjoy the creative process without feeling pressure or rushed. Iron linens, polish silver, pull out your beautiful china & crystal. Set the table and arrange your flowers, branches, fruits, accessories, etc. Be sure your tablescape isn’t a barricade. Guests should be able to see one another and converse freely without contortioning themselves.
Skirt a table to use as a buffet, bar or entry table. It’s a great way to add pattern & color and you can store items below.
Please…Lift Your Spirit
To kick the party off, greet guests with a festive signature cocktail.
Create a beautiful, fully stocked bar so guests can lift their spirits, and help themselves. Don’t serve clear cocktails only. This is a pet peeve of many — the majority of people aren’t white wine or liquor drinkers and this leaves them at a disadvantage.
Make ice cubes in different shapes, sizes & flavors. People get such a kick out of this! Colin Cowie introduced me to this concept. There are a myriad of ice trays available in all shapes & sizes, or you can make your own decorative cubes.
Have your music playlists ready when guests arrive; soothing at the arrival, energizing as the evening progresses. Be sure guests don’t have to shout, keep the volume appropriate for the evening. No time to create playlists? No worries. Pandora.com makes it easy. Choose genres, artists, mix, shuffle and voila!
Create ambiance; dim the lights and strategically place candles so everything glows in all the right places. Use unscented candles only. Set the mood before guests arrive.
Let the party linger. Don’t be so rigid that every aspect of the party is timed. Keep things light and relaxed, otherwise you risk breaking the flow of conversation and merriment.
Charm your host — Dress up, it shows appreciation and puts you in a festive mood. And by all means, never go empty handed; bring a thoughtful gift. Turn your cell phone off. Be sure you show your appreciation with a handwritten Thank You note.
In my opinion you can never have too many festive occasions whether they are decked out or dressed down! Carpe Diem! Celebrate!
Cheers to a Beautiful Life!