Friends & Fanciness: Planning a Dinner Party

Stretch yourself and create an evening of fun and fanciness with friends. Bring back the classic dinner party and real connections.
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Weekly design ideas for elevating your everyday or finally planning that fancy dinner party. 

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Place setting at a table decorated for a holiday dinner party

I grew up in a family where celebrations were a way of life. Report cards, graduations, promotions, and really good weeks were reasons to gather around the table together. We didn’t have Family Dinner often since our parents’ schedules were opposite shifts for many years, but at the core of our home life was celebrating at home. These were the beginning of my love of the dinner party experience.

When the occasion was big enough for friends and extended family to join us, it was even better. Conversations flowed naturally with good-natured teasing, learning about each other and our worlds. This was the ideal. 

As an adult though, I realized that not only do we generally celebrate less, we usually do it outside. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great restaurant experience. And, I get it. Coordinating schedules and navigating food requirements and preferences, it’s a lot. Plus, with our phones surgically implanted in our hands, we really just aren’t that close anymore. But, I really miss partying at home.

So… What if we did it anyway? What if we started small and brought sexy, er, dinner parties back? Planning a dinner party doesn’t have to be an ordeal. You can prevent avoidable headaches and snafus by planning the evening beforehand.

Place setting at a table decorated for a holiday dinner party

Start With the Guest List

Now usually, you’d start with the budget. But I’m advising that you start with the people because that makes it easier to set a budget that you can actually stick to. How many folks are joining you at the table? Will it be an intimate yet lively group of 6 to 8 or a bigger event of 12 or more? 

This is your home. Your safe space. Skip the strangers and the met-them-once-and-seemed-cool folks. I recommend sticking with friends and family, neighbors you say more than ‘hey’ to, and your work besties.

If you’re like me, you’re maxing out at 8 because that’s the size of your table and the number of matching place settings you have. If you’re planning for more, don’t freak out. Matching is not a requirement unless you really want it that way. A mixed set has a charm all its own and can be just as fancy.

So consider your guests. What are their dietary requirements? Don’t be afraid to ask. After all, you’re inviting them over to feed them. There’s no point if you serve them things they can’t eat. Then you can create a menu that flows naturally and doesn’t leave anyone out.

Send your invites out at least a week in advance (preferably two) to give them a chance to schedule accordingly and respond. I rely on my Google calendar to send out periodic reminders up to and including the dinner date. For something you’re spending precious time planning, don’t leave it up to a text. Use your favorite email invite program to signal that the dinner party is something special.

The Budget

So what will you spend? Planning out your budget will do wonders for making absolutely sure that you can afford the food, supplies, decorations, and other supplies you’ll need for the evening.

When considering your budget, is there a theme for the evening? Are you going all in on the décor to carry it through? Are you going to focus the biggest slice of the budget pie on the meal itself? Depending on your vision for the evening, either of these is the right answer.

The Menu

Along with the main courses, the drinks, appetizers, and desserts are the stars of the show. Decide whether you’ll cook the food yourself or invest in a good caterer. This bears repeating: good planning includes finding out whether or not any of your guests suffer from a food allergy or have alternative dietary needs for some other reason. It’s not just good manners to make sure that they have enough to eat—it’s also a great way to introduce yourself to new foods. I’ve found that this level of exploration means there are more choices when I hit up restaurants with cuisine I haven’t tried yet.

The Bling

Finally, one of the best parts of planning a dinner party is arranging the swag. Whether you want to plan out a lavish affair with cloth napkins and centerpieces or you simply want to use your prized china and silverware, making your home look gorgeous and then showing it off can be an immensely rewarding experience.

So stretch yourself and create an evening of fun and fanciness with friends. Bring back the classic dinner party and real connections.

Design inspo for celebrations, afternoon tea, or Wednesday's work-at-home lunch.
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