1. Make something easy for dinner. Save your Martha Stewart recipes for your supper club. Dinner parties are for tried and true meals that you know are simple to create with limited time and effort.
2. Keep your guest list low. I happen to think 8 to 10 is the perfect number. (I tend to invite 12 to 14 since people are busy, and cancellations happen regularly.)
3. Leave the insecurities behind. Your house doesn’t have to be perfect. Sure, it’s nice to have a clutter-free home, and maybe a big kitchen or dining room would be ideal. But don’t let the fact that your house is a little messy or a little small keep you from opening it up to friends and acquaintances. Hospitality goes beyond perfect decorations and open floor plans. It’s about giving others a place to relax and enjoy the company of those they love.
4. Light candles. I don’t like eating in the dark, but I also don’t like harsh overhead lighting that makes you feel like you’re chowing down in a school cafeteria. Candles are a nice solution, especially if you spread a few votives across the table. It’s a nice touch that people probably don’t use at home very often, setting apart the dinner as a kind of special occasion.
5. Take it outside. Small apartment? Try hosting a gathering outside instead of in. God’s creation is so beautiful, and most of us don’t enjoy it nearly enough. Eat on your patio or in your backyard, especially if you think things will be too tight inside.
6. Chill out. I used to think that people needed to do something to be happy: games, movies, some kind of over-the-top conversation starter. The truth is, though, we’re all busy. And mostly, people just like to sit and eat. Sure, I still think game nights are fun, but there’s something really special about people who love each other enough to just sit and talk, nothing extra needed.
7. Think outside your comfort zone. Even though it’s nice to get together with our closest friends, I think it’s important to think outside of the box and invite people who are new to town, who maybe don’t have family close by. Go outside your typical guest list and invite some people you don’t know as well. You might be surprised at what new friends you meet.
8. Tell people where to sit. Maybe this is a little Monica Geller of me, but if you’re going to think outside the box and invite newcomers, I think it’s wise to figure out in advance where people should sit. Don’t put all of the quiet people on one end of the table or all of the married couples together. Instead, match people up based on interests; make sure good conversationalists are seated near the middle to keep conversation flowing.
9. Accept others’ help. If a friend offers to bring dessert, let her. If a guest starts to take the dishes to the kitchen, let him. Part of being a good host is allowing others to be gracious. If they want to help, let them.
10. Don't wait for a reason. Hardly anyone throws a dinner party anymore, and I wonder if it’s because we’re all waiting for the perfect moment. There is no perfect moment. Everybody is busy (have I said that enough?), and food is expensive, and blogs and magazines make us think everything has to be styled perfectly. No it doesn’t. Sometimes, people just need an excuse to get together. Be the excuse.
- Proper table setting illustration by Mrs. Lilien.