8 Top Tips On How To Throw A Fancy Dinner Party

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A great dinner party is a difficult thing to define. Firstly, you need to decide where on the stress spectrum you wish to settle; the occasion likely dictating the amount of effort you’re going to put in.

If it’s on the more fancy, special-occasion side of things, then every element needs to be considered in detail; for such a dinner party to go swimmingly, it’s important to remember that it’s not only about the food.

Indeed, we think the ingredient basket should also contain fine wine, pinpoint timing, good grace, a certain je ne sais quoi, and most importantly, generosity. But even more than all of that, the key component is foresight. And with that in mind, here are 8 tips on how to throw a fancy dinner party.

A Great Guestlist

Dinner party success lies not in inviting all the largest personalities, but in harnessing a fine balance of characters, temperaments and tones.

While a group of similar professions, ages and the rest equates to a harmonious vibe, it’s not going to be the most interesting; all a little too easy, and everyone preaching to the choir, if you ask us. If conversation is to flow like the fine wine you serve, you’ll need a great blend of extroverts, introverts, intellect, impudence and everything in between.

Prep What You Can In Advance

The key to hosting a fancy dinner party is taking the time to be there, in the room, entertaining and charming your guests. Because ‘fancy’ isn’t simply about chucking as much money as you can muster at an event. 

Nope, events which can truly be defined as special run like clockwork, and fancy relies on something which can’t be touched or bought; and that is down to the charm of the host. Being stuck in the kitchen, flapping over unrisen souffles and burnt pastry is not a classy look (we know from sad experience). 

Preparation, then, is key when it comes to hosting, so it’s a good idea to get your cooking area completely organised, and any food which can be prepared in advance doing so. In doing so, you will have free hands and a free mind to sprinkle that extra special bit of stardust on your event.

As any professional chef will you tell you, a successfully run service hinges on the preparation. ‘Mis en place’ is a phrase that every chef should be familiar with and conversant in. This term refers to the meticulous, precise principles of kitchen organisation and food prep which rule a restaurant kitchen.

You should adopt the same principles at home, prior to (and during) your dinner party. Before your guests arrive, do endeavour to get the bulk of the prep work out of the way. In fact, you should design your whole menu in such a way that it only requires last minute searing, seasoning and plating, much like a restaurant service would.

Do all of your mincing, chopping, and slicing prior to cooking, so you can give the actual cooking part of the hosting your full and undivided attention when it needs it. Doing so will also give you time to host the dinner party with all that good grace and charisma which we know you have in spades.

Choose Your Menu Wisely

Though only a small portion of your evening (and the guests’ focus) will be taken up by the food itself, choosing what to serve will help set the tone of the whole event. You can do plenty with the typical starter, main, and dessert combo, with a few choice nibbles beforehand to sustain your guests while they socialise before the meal. But they key here is to source carefully, and inject a little extra pizzazz with some choice ingredients taken from the more extravagant side of the shopping aisle. 

The trick, we think, is to pick one main, premium ingredient – say a côte de boeuf – and build everything else around it with complementary sides and flavours. It’s the classiest way of doing things; allowing a carefully sourced main event to speak for itself with supporting cast chosen thoughtfully and effortlessly. In the right hands, the rest writes itself. 

Think about how well all of the flavours flow together; if you base your dinner party on a certain type of cuisine then you’re more likely to get this right. This is because the herbs and spices used within that cuisine will all work together so you’ll get dishes that follow on from each other, rather than huge contrasts from course to course which can be jarring. 

Another way to raise the tone is through your canapes; oysters rather than cocktail sausages, caviar on your blinis as opposed to some Lidl smoked salmon; that kinda thing.

Don’t forget to ask if your guests have any allergies, intolerances or food restrictions. You may need to prepare a separate vegetarian meal or halal meal for example, that works with the rest of the guests- but excluding the ingredients they can’t eat. 

Curate A Captivating Tablescape

The visual appeal of your dinner party is paramount, and a well-curated tablescape can be a feast for the eyes. Begin with a theme that resonates with the occasion – perhaps a colour scheme that reflects the season, or tableware that complements the cuisine you’re serving. 

Luxurious table linen such as that available from British Wholesales, elegant china, and sparkling glassware set the stage, while thoughtful details like place cards, centrepieces, and candles add a personal touch. Remember, the devil is in the details; even napkin rings and bread baskets should be chosen to enhance the overall aesthetic. A beautifully set table not only impresses your guests but also makes the food served upon it seem even more delectable. 

Get The Drinks Right

A fantastic way to get the dinner party off on the right foot is to provide a delicious pre-dinner drink. Nothing says a warm welcome like being greeted with an expertly mixed cocktail, but a nice premium lager or ale is a good alternative for those that are not so cocktail-inclined. It’s the thought that counts, after all. 

The specific selection of drinks you choose will largely depend on what you’re cooking; no one is going to admire your culinary expertise if you pair that aforementioned rib of beef with a Chardonnay, for instance, so consider wine pairing carefully. A more full-bodied, luxurious red – a few bottles of Italian Barolo or a selection of Bordeaux wines – would be much better suited, we think (though perhaps not for your carpet!).

Of course, no host worth their Maldon sea salt would only serve wine. It’s also a good idea to provide some non-alcoholic alternatives for anyone who may be driving, pregnant, religiously opposed, a recovering alcoholic, or may simply not be feeling like drinking. Classy, more than anything, is catering to everyone’s needs.

Read: 5 beginner’s tips for pairing food and wine

Soundtracking The Evening

The perfect playlist is an essential ingredient for any dinner party, setting the mood as subtly as the lighting or the scent of your home. Begin with a welcoming prelude as guests arrive; soft jazz, classical melodies, 60s folk, or even a little chill-hop, can create a warm atmosphere without overwhelming early conversations. 

As the main course is served, transition to a more upbeat selection that mirrors the lively buzz of the room – think soulful grooves or light electronic beats that raise spirits without demanding centre stage.

As the evening draws to a close and desserts make their appearance, your music should shift to a softer, more reflective tempo. Gentle ballads or tranquil ambient music (‘Music for Airports’, we’re looking at you) provide a relaxed backdrop for the night’s final act, allowing guests to wind down and digest the evening’s pleasures. 

Throughout the event, ensure the volume allows for easy conversation, tailor the music to your audience’s tastes, and use a streaming service to avoid any technical mishaps or awkward silences

A well-curated soundtrack not only enhances the dining experience but also leaves a lasting impression, harmonising with the memory of a delightful evening spent in good company.

Personalise Your Party Favours

Sending your guests home with a memento of the evening can leave a lasting impression. Personalised party favours show a level of thoughtfulness and care that elevates the entire experience. These could be small, like a handwritten recipe card of the evening’s signature dish, a bespoke blend of tea or coffee, or even a miniature bottle of the night’s featured spirit or liqueur. 

If you’ve chosen a specific theme or cuisine, select favours that echo this – for instance, a small potted herb if you’ve served Italian cuisine, or a personalised chopstick set for a Japanese-inspired meal. The aim is to provide a token that will remind your guests of the delightful time they had long after the evening has ended.

Remember, Again, That It’s Not All About The Food

It’s easy to spend so much time thinking about the food and drink that you can overlook the little things that work together to create atmosphere and help lubricate the party’s cogs. Detail is everything; lighting, crockery, music…it all counts, we think. That eye for the small touches can be the difference between good and great, between coarse and classy. And you want to be the latter, don’t you?

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