Dressing the table for a dinner party is almost as important as the menu. It also serves as a tool of distraction if your offerings didn’t turn out as planned- after all, everything will taste decent if served in a gorgeous atmosphere. Am I right, or am I right?
So listen up, follow these tips and hints and you will be able to pull off a fantastic dinner party! I guarantee it!
First things first.
The table. Cover it.
There is NO excuse for a bare table, I don’t care how trendy or expensive it is!
A dinner party calls for table linen. I assume by the time you get to decorating the table, you’ve chosen a general theme and colours for your party. Here is where you implement it. Flowing linen should be either white or a strong, dramatic colour which will lay the theme for the rest of the evening. Don’t scrimp on linen- it will cheapen the look of everything. Make sure it is crease-free and even on all sides.
Next, it’s time to lay a runner down the middle of the table. No, you don’t have to place a runner on your table, but I think it looks nice, so you should. Choose a contrasting colour that compliments your linen, for example if my table linen was a turquoise green, I would lay a white or chocolate brown runner. If you don’t know what colours suit each other, get a colour chart from a paint shop or look for one on the internet. And get a clue!
Every table awaiting dinner party guests should have a centrepiece. Repeat after me: YOU CANNOT GO WRONG WITH CANDLES! Candles, candles, everywhere, but most importantly either in the centre of the table or along the runner. Little tealight holders can be purchased in all sorts of colours and give off a lovely flickering glow during the course of the evening. Place tealights in glass holders along the middle of the table and sprinkle the rose petals along the runner. Have a clear bowl in the middle of the table filled with water, and floating candles and some freshly cut orchids. Candlesticks are always a hit. Candelabras are a no-no, however. I think they not only look tacky, but they are so huge that they tend to separate the table and get in the way. If you’re afraid of setting the house alight, you can always go down the flower route. Any freshly cut flowers- anything from elaborate Singapore orchids to the blooms you stole from your neighbours’ garden- look fabulous in a simple vase. You could do one vase in the centre of the table or lots of small vases along the runner- you’ll know what looks right. When in doubt, chuck some fruit in a good-looking bowl (right, image source) and you’re done.
Look around the rest of your home. Carry your theme through to the rest of the area. Serving a Chinese-influenced meal? Hang paper lanterns in the room. Having a Moroccan theme? Create a dimly lit corner of the room filled with a low table, fluffed up beaded cushions to sit on and tealights- perfect for pre-dinner drinks. Having a Mexican fiesta? Fill a bowl with glossy red chillies and place in the centre of your table and play mariachi music. You get the idea.
Should you bother with place-cards and menus? Yes, and yes. Put some careful thought into where you wish your guests to sit. There is nothing worse than sitting your two most shy friends together. If you have nice handwriting, you can buy some delicate paper and hand-write their names and tuck the notes into their napkin rings with a fresh flower. Make little cards in a colour that compliments your theme and set them where you would like them to sit. Write a special individual note inside the card for each guest. As for the menus, print enough for one for every person, or if you are a tightarse, you can print one for each couple. Print it on the same paper as the place-cards and place it face up on their bread plate or atop their napkin. It should be no bigger than a DVD case (left, image source). Nobody wants to look at your big, flopping menu. It’s not a restaurant. It’s a few dishes. It doesn’t need to be huge. Make sure you keep all your fonts and colours and sizes consistent- there is nothing worse that inconsistency!
Favours? Do you have to? No, you are not obligated to give your guests favours. However if you want them to think you are the best hostess ever to walk this earth, you will give each guest a little favour or gift bag. It should be something that suits your theme. For example, if your theme is French, you could give each guest a little waxed cardboard box in a colour suiting your theme, filled with delicious hand-made French chocolates and tied with a beautiful satin ribbon in your theme colour. If you’re going for a more fun favour, how about a shot glass filled with M&Ms in your theme colour? Favours don’t need to be elaborate or expensive. In fact, if they are, your guests will think you’re crazed and a show-off. So don’t go overboard. Just a little something to show your appreciation.
Glassware, crockery, cutlery, etc. We don’t even need to discuss this. You should know this by now.
Now that we’ve gotten that all sorted, we should probably deal with the food, seeing as this was the purpose for the entire party to begin with. Don’t try and go over the top. You’re likely to stuff it up because of nerves/lack of time. Don’t be over-ambitious. Use recipes that you’ve successfully mastered before. The night of your dinner party is not the time to try out that yummy new lamb recipe you clipped from a magazine. Make sure your flavours aren’t too overpowering and clash. A bean and garlic soup might be yummy but serving it as an entree before a fillet of beef with a horseradish crust might not please your guests’ palates. Avoid, at all costs, fiddly and messy foods. No shellfish, no beetroot, nothing, zip, nada that can be dropped and stain clothing, linen, carpet or send shells, pips and juice flying around the table. You’ve been warned. Go for a light entree with small portions. You want the main course to be the star of the show- the entree and dessert are just the perfect opening and closing to a wonderful dining experience.
Salads, risotto, pasta and soups are all perfect if the portions are small, flavours are light and leave the diners wanting more. Your main course is going to be the scene-stealer, so think it through for a long time before deciding. Make sure that if you are serving meat that none of your guests are vegetarians. Also check for all other intolerances seeing as everyone and their dog has an intolerance or allergy to something these days. Pick the sides for your main course carefully. Don’t try to be too creative. Nobody wants to hear about your mustard and pepper-crusted beets, for God’s sake, just roast some potatoes and drizzle some beans with a lovely vinaigrette will you? Nobody likes a fancypants.
Last of all, make your dessert light and fresh. At this point, it’s usually perfect to top the meal off with a fresh fruit dessert- lychees drizzled with a sweet ginger syrup, brandied oranges with vanilla ice-cream or sensual cherry tartlettes. If you want to go all out and make a decadent dessert like creme caramel or a yummy chocolate dessert, keep the portions small and serve with whipped cream. You don’t want people making pigs of themselves and puking on YOUR carpet.
Alcohol. Not even touching that one. Each to their own, I say.
Be a gracious hostess. Laugh at bad jokes, mingle with all your guests. Don’t spend the majority of your time in the kitchen, stressing because the ragout is just wrong, wrong, wrong and generally making your guests feel uncomfortable. Smile, laugh, drink wine. If someone spills a glass of wine on your linen, just breath, smile and mop it up instead of launching in an apoplectic fit. It’s okay. Really. Enjoy the evening and with any luck, your guests might accept one of your future invitations.