Quick Recipes and Easy

Distinctive Dinner Parties 103 – Your Guests

Learn the secrets to giving distinctive, memorable dinner parties in five simple steps. This article, the third in a series of five, shows you how.

5 Steps to the Perfect Dinner Party

Choose a themeOrganize, Organize, OrganizePlace some thought into your guestsPay attention to the detailsServe fabulous food effortlessly

One of the most vital elements of your dinner party will be your guests, so you need to give quite a bit of thought to them. Here are 6 vital things to consider.

Choose on a guest list.

A maximum of 6-8 people is ideal. More than that and you won’t be able to include everyone in the conversation, and guests will break up into separate groups on opposite sides of the table.

Don’t just invite the same people over and over. Invite people that will delight in each other and find each other fascinating and fun. Try new and unexpected combinations of people, which will encourage new conversations and possibly new friendships.

Make your home comfortable for your guests.

Prepare your house at least two days ahead of time. Mentally walk through the evening from the point of view of your guests and make notes of anything that needs attention.

Your powder room should be sparkling clean with clean hand towels, guest soap, tissues, extra toilet tissue, fresh flowers and a candle.

Make sure there is a place to store boots, coats and handbags.

If it is not already, arrange your furniture in a conversational grouping, making sure there are enough comfortable seats for everyone. Have coasters handy. Place a bouquet of fresh flowers in the room. Spray your room with an aromatherapy mix that promotes a sense of comfort and well-being. The one I like best is a relaxing mixture of geranium, clary-sage, lemon and bergamot.

Make your guests feel welcome.

Guests and host alike have vital responsibilities at any dinner party. It is a guest’s responsibility to be charming, gracious, well-mannered, and to be a excellent communicator. The host’s job is also to be charming and gracious, to keep conversation flowing, and above all to make every guest feel comfortable and welcome.

I am reminded of a tale about the Queen of England. Apparently a guest seated next to the Queen at a dinner used the incorrect eating utensil for the course that was being served. The tale goes that the Queen, without missing a beat, picked up the same utensil and ate with it herself so that the guest would not feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. Now that is gracious hospitality.

It takes effort and plotting to go the extra mile to make your guests feel singled out for special treatment. This is where the extra thoughtfulness and preparations come in – invitations, menus, party favors, specially chosen music, all the details that tell someone that they are worth a small extra effort.

Of course, the most vital thing to give your guests is your complete attention. Let them know you are glad they are there, and that talking and enjoying the evening with them is the most vital thing on your agenda at that moment. It might seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how few people do it well. If you master this, you will be the most well loved host on the block without a doubt.

Mix it up

Pay attention to your seating plot – don’t just leave it to chance. Use place cards or direct guests to their places. Seat talkative people next to quieter people; seat people together who don’t know each other or who might find each other fascinating.

Do Everything Possible Ahead of Time

Once your guests arrive, they should be your primary focus. On the other hand, if you are cooking an ambitious or fascinating meal, the food might demand quite a lot of your attention as well. How does one balance it? It helps to have a spouse or designated co-host to help keep the party flowing when you have to duck into the kitchen. The other trick is to do everything possible ahead of time, and to write down every single thing that needs to be done after guests arrive. That way you won’t have to reckon about too many things at once, leaving your mind free to concentrate on your guests.

Special Etiquette Issues

There are some special etiquette issues that every host has to deal with from time to time. One of the most common is unexpected guests. Although it is usually considered terrible form to bring an uninvited guest with you to dinner, it happens. Even if someone calls a day or so ahead to question to bring someone, you have already set your table and done your grocery shopping. So what should one do?

I have seen etiquette books and articles that suggest gracious ways to say no if someone questions, but personally I can’t imagine doing it. And if uninvited guests just show up, there’s nothing to be done anyway. Frustrating though it might be, I reckon the only alternative is to set another place and be completely welcoming and gracious about it. After having the experience a time or two, I always have an extra place setting and napkin handy to slip onto the table with a minimum of fuss, just in case.

Probably worse than uninvited guests to a dinner party are people who show up late or not at all. My feeling is that, unless there is a very excellent, unexpected and unavoidable reason, it is inexcusably rude to arrive more than 15 minutes late to a dinner party. If someone does arrive late, he or she should join the party in progress. You, as host, have no responsibility to hold dinner, or to serve any courses that were missed. You do, but, have a responsibility to be completely gracious and to make the guest feel welcome.

The next day you might reckon seriously about moving this guest to the bottom of your invitation list, especially if the person is a repeat offender. If he or she is a dear friend or relative that you want to (or have to) invite again, then I would have a frank talk with him or her after the dinner, but before the next invitation, making it clear what your expectations are.

Charlotte Rose is a passionate cook and creative party-giver. To find distinctive menus and plans for making your own memorable dinner parties, visit her website at

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