Everyone’s life could use a touch more elegance, so knowing how to host a formal dinner party can turn just another weekend night into something really special.
Unless you own a banquet table, keep it small. Determine how many people fit comfortably in your space and let that be your guide. Everyone need not know everyone else, but give some thought to which guests might enjoy one another’s company.
Invitations set a party’s tone. Go to a stationary store rather than a discount party center, and buy the best materials you can afford. Quality paper has a distinctly luxurious feel that will raise your guests’ anticipation as soon as they handle it. Be sure to specify that the event is formal and guests should dress accordingly.
A formal dinner party can have anywhere between three and twelve courses, depending on the budget and skill level of the host. Minimally, a menu should include a soup or salad course, entrée, and dessert. Serving appetizers and cocktails when guests first arrive is a good idea, as well. Including both a soup and salad course is another option, as are adding courses of pasta, fish, or cheese and fruit to name a few. For first timers, it’s a good idea to start small and then add on, as you feel more comfortable.
Use seasonal ingredients as inspiration for your menu. This helps to keep courses cohesive. Visit your local gourmet store or farmers’ market and see what looks fresh, then flip through cookbooks or search online for recipes that use these ingredients. Try to give any new recipes a test run before your party, so no last minute crises occur. Once you’ve set your menu, ask your local wine merchant to recommend wines that pair well with your courses.
Make lists of ingredients and tasks, then purchase and complete as many as possible ahead of time, crossing them off as you go. For ingredients that are delicate (such as raspberries) and need to be especially fresh (such as fish), consider having the grocery store deliver. If budget permits, a personal chef will ensure you have plenty of time to visit with guests. A less expensive option is hiring a server. Catering services can provide one, or ask the manager of your favorite restaurant if any wait staff are available
Don’t hold back on the elegance; break out your best china, crystal, linens and flatware. Set the table the morning of your party, one less thing to worry about later. Make sure you have enough plates, bowls, silverware, glasses, etc., to accommodate all courses and their associated beverages. Place a seasonal flower arrangement (low enough for guests to see over) in the center of the table, or try a bowl of seasonal items like fruit, pinecones, even colorful fall leaves. Use your centerpiece as inspiration for place cards; write names on folded, good quality paper and place an acorn, pinecone, flower, or a strawberry in front. Turn on some music, turn down lights, and light the candles. Then toast yourself! You deserve it.