5 Tips For Hosting An Intimate Dinner Party

by Aparna Ayyar

Sit-down dinner parties conjure images of rustling silk dresses, the blues playing in the background and food you can sink your teeth into. The winter months are the perfect time of year to host a cozy get together at your place. Light some candles, roast some meats, pour some wine and voile - instant charming memories. Oh if only it were that simple.

If you love the idea of hosting a dinner party but don't know where to start, or have been putting it off for various reasons, our tips will help you pull together all the makings of a magical evening with friends and loved ones.

Here are our tips for planning the perfect dinner party:

1. Rearrange The Furniture: So you’re dinner table is pushed up against the wall in your kitchen most days, not to worry. Bring it out to the spot in the house that will accommodate your guests and provide optimal conversation flow. Make sure all sides of the table are easily accessible for ins and outs, even if that means moving some other furnishings to accommodate your dinner party redecorating.

Make the table the focal point of the evening with a tablecloth, cloth napkins and decorative (but functional) accents like candleholders and place cards. A few simple floral stems in a mason jar makes for a simple and lovely centerpiece, no need to get too fancy. Also make sure you have sturdy and if possible comfy chairs to entice your guests to hang out at the table longer.

Bonus Tip: don't have a tablecloth? Never fear, run to your local thrift store and find a vintage floral cloth. The best part? It comes already broken in with the wine rings of many a successful dinner party to guide you in yours.

2. Warm Mellow Lights: Mood lighting can really help people loosen up. Stay away from harsh overhead lighting that can kill the ambience and actually inhibit conversation. Instead opt for table and floor lamps that offer a warm mellow and diffused glow to the dining space. Another great way to light up the place is to hang strings of lights (the Christmas or garden variety will do) in the space and place have tea lights and votives in various rooms around your house, including the bathroom, to carry your ambience throughout the space. Be cautious and set them on glass trays and in candle holders, and be sure not to set them too close to curtains or anything flammable.

3. Food: If you’re inviting friends and the gathering is intimate, don’t be stressed about whether or not the cheese is fancy or if the wine is vintage. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Serve flavorful food that you're confident in cooking, no first time recipe trials here. Low maintenance is best, so think of un-fussy dishes like roasted vegetables and one-pot meals that are easy to dish up and serve.

Think about what you can prepare ahead of time, even a day or more in advance, so that you're not stuck in the kitchen instead of out interacting with your guests. Pre-toss salads, bake your desserts the night before, and have all of your serving dishes laid out so everything is ready to go and you can relax and enjoy the party along with your guests.

Bonus Tip: Be sure to have finger foods and appetizers ready when your guests arrive so you can keep them happy and fed from the moment they walk in your door.

4. Music: Forget EDM or even your fave 90s playlist. Stick to mellow jazz or blues that let you have a conversation. Instrumental tracks are great for setting atmosphere without being too distracting. If you don't have the time to create a playlist, just tune into your favorite streaming service and choose from a variety of pre-set stations that are created specifically to help set the right mood for your event. Whatever you do, just set it and forget it. You don't need to play DJ all night and the less the music is the focus and the more it is in the background, the better. 

5. Conversation Starters: Ah the art of conversation. If you've invited people who won't know each other, look for conversation starters such as “Did you know Tim’s a certified diver” or “Jill, didn't you just adopt a dachshund?” to help get things started. The last thing you want is for cliques to form or for anyone to feel left out of the conversational flow, so think about seating arrangements carefullly and be sure not to strand anyone in a sea of strangers, or group people too closely in their known group.

Rearranging the furniture a little to focus on your book shelf, records, photo frames or knick knacks can also help to start conversations. People love asking about vacation photos and everyone loves to think they’re well-read.

Remember you’re not Martha Stewart, no one is expecting you to have the linens perfectly ironed and folded or for a souffle rise to perfection on command at precisely the right moment. Understand that glasses will break, an appetizer may not taste as great as you'd hoped, the house may be just a bit too small and the lights may be too bright. But that’s just fine as long as there was great conversation and lots of fun and laughter. Stay focused on things that really matter and your dinner party will be a smashing success.

Images: Shutterstock

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