Updated: Nov 17, 2022
Inviting friends over for a dinner party is an art. For some it's a staple Saturday night, and for others it's a coming of age. Casual get togethers are much different than throwing a fancy dinner party at home. From selecting a perfect menu to setting the ideal atmosphere for your guests, we've put together a list of everything you need to consider when throwing a fancy dinner party with friends at home.
1-2 MONTHS BEFORE
Invite Your Guests, the Old Fashion Way
The first step to planning a fancy dinner party, is inviting your guests! Before getting started on your menu, consider the theme of your party and who you're inviting. Make sure the people on your guest list generally have things in common to set a nice relaxed environment the day of the dinner party.
Next up, are your invitations. While many of us now rely on text messages for invitations, a fancy dinner party requires a bit more of an elaborate kick off. Sending paper invitations is an extra added touch that makes a big impact. If you have a specific theme, make sure your invitations match it, use similar colors or text that alludes to the theme of the night. When sending invitations, don't forget to ask about your guest's personal preferences. While you shouldn't build your menu around a guest's personal preferences, it's good to know if almost everyone is eating meat free, gluten free, or has an allergy.
3 WEEKS BEFORE
Plan the Menu
Menu planning for a fancy dinner party requires quite a bit of thought. The difference between a casual and a formal dinner party often comes down to the food served and the manner of how it's presented. Typically a fancy affair is a multi-course dinner with proper plating and dish ware. Here are tips to help you plan your menu.
1.) Build a Menu that Allows for Prep Work the Day Before. Build your menu wisely and make sure you only serve items you've made before. While it's fun to test new recipes on friends, this isn't the time. Serve a meal everyone will enjoy and you feel confident preparing. Ensure a large part of the menu can be made in advance. When your guests arrive, you should have the majority of the work done and only need to do a few finishing touches, like reheating the stew, adding the seafood into the cioppino or putting the empanadas in the oven. If you need help in building a menu or gaining confidence in your cooking abilities, take a cooking class and learn from an expert. Cooking classes are a fabulous way to learn new skills and master a specific dish that can become a classic in your own kitchen.
2.) Consider your guests dietary preferences, loosely. While you want your guests to enjoy the meal, if a friend is riding the latest dietary trend don't plan the entire menu around them. Anyone who is on a restrictive diet knows they have to work around others. Plan the menu thoughtfully so everyone has something to eat, but not so much so that you're using unfamiliar substitutes or making a meal you've never made before.
3.) Create a Theme and Stick with It. Ensure your menu is complimentary to the flavours of every part of the meal. If you're planning an Italian extravaganza, don't throw in a Thai inspired salad. It interrupts the palate. Keep with a theme from start to finish.
RELATED: Cooking Classes we recommend if you want to host a formal dinner party
3 WEEKS BEFORE
Plan Table Settings and Centerpieces
Once you've decided on your menu, review your dining table and plan how you'll have the table set the night of the dinner party. First up, centerpieces. Choose your centerpieces wisely making sure you leave enough room for table settings. Also make sure the height of the centrepieces doesn't interrupt the flow of conversation. Whether you choose short flowers or vases, keep them simple but chic.
Next, review the tablesettings. Make note of what serving trays are needed and what your table settings will require. If you're serving salad, soup and a main, have enough dishware for the dinner party and head to the store for any special presentation platters or serving equipment you may need. Consider this is a formal dinner party, so glam up your table setting and enjoy the nice dishes. View the table setting diagram below for reference on how to set a formal place setting.
1 WEEK BEFORE
Visit the grocery store about a week in advance of your dinner party to purchase any non-perishable items. The day of your dinner party you should purchase fresh produce and bakery items. Visit the store early so you have a good choice of baked goods. If you realize you forgot something at the store, you can pick up any forgotten items then.
1 WEEK BEFORE
Stock the Bar
Of course the secret to a festive dinner party is a well stocked bar. Have basic spirits on hand (vodka, gin, whiskey, rum and tequila) for cocktails. For a fancy dinner party, we recommend starting off your guests with their choice of champagne or creative house cocktails.
For the dinner however, make sure to find the appropriate wine pairings for the meal and offer both red and white to your guests. While you know your guests best, it's good to consider this rule of thumb - expect two people to consume one bottle of wine in two hours. Remember, it's always best to have too much wine than too little. In addition to the number of bottles, you also need to consider your meal and the number of courses. Since this is a fancy party, pairing each course with a specific wine adds a little extra to the dinner. If you choose pairing each course with a wine, you may need to purchase extra bottles.
1 WEEK BEFORE
Get the Tunes Ready
Put together a classic playlist for when your guests arrive. We recommend music from older eras to bring a bit of the nostalgia to your party, but if you have a specific theme to your dinner party, you can have fun with the music! We recommend having a couple playlists, one for arrival and cocktail hour, and another to play during dinner. Test the volume of the music to make sure it's at a volume that allows for conversation.
1 DAY BEFORE
Create a reference guide for everything you need to complete for each course. This will make ensure you don't forget anything. Begin cooking the items that can stay fresh in the fridge, or half prepare recipes so they can easily be put together the day of your dinner party. As you do each step, cross the item off your list so you know it's been done. If you aren't sure what can be done in advance, remember you can start a stock, make a filling, stuff chicken breast, finish a vinaigrette, bake your dessert, and lots of other things as well. For the most part, anything you've prepped should be stored tightly wrapped in the fridge. Remember, throughout cooking you should taste, taste, taste!
THE DAY OF YOUR DINNER PARTY
Clean Up the House
Make sure to tidy up the main areas of the house including where you'll serve cocktails before dinner, and your bathroom. In the cocktail room, place a small wastebasket in the corner so guests can dispose of any napkins should they choose. In the bathroom, splurge on a high-end soap, make sure towels are freshly laundered, and place a diffuser in the room to keep the bathroom fresh.
Set the Table and Enjoy!
The morning of your dinner party, set the table to get that out of the way. Make sure to reference the formal table setting diagram above. A few hours before your guests arrive, get the bar ready, and make sure to have garnishes sliced and in bowls for easy access. Next up, get your hors d'oeuvres plated so they're ready to begin passing around. And last, make sure you have your notes handy for the final things that need to get done for dinner! When you're ready to begin dinner, let everyone know dinner will be served soon so your guests make their way into the dining area. Then relax and enjoy some good company.
End with a Sweet Treat
After enjoying conversation with your guests, it's time to bring out a sweet treat to end the meal. If you're an avid baker, individual cakes are always a hit, but for those a bit more baking challenged, you have lots of options. One route is to simply purchase dessert from a local patisserie and add your own touch whether it be homemade whipped cream, berries or a sprinkling of powdered sugar. An even easier option however is to serve cheese, chocolate and fruit. For a fancy dinner party, we recommend serving each guest their own small plate. A nice cheddar with a dollop of honey, a chunk of dark chocolate and berries make for a lovely way to end a meal. Serve dessert with coffee, tea, and optional digestifs and liqueurs like brandy, limoncello, ports and the like.
Send Everyone Home with a Treat
When dinner starts to wind down and your guests begin to leave, it's nice touch to send them home with a small gift or party favour. If your dinner party had a theme, think of something that fits well, otherwise a small bag of chocolates or muffin to enjoy for breakfast the next morning is a lovely way for your guests to remember your dinner party the next day.
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