There’s something so special about gathering good friends and family around your dinner table. Good food, candlelight, the right music, stimulating conversation and plenty of laughter—those are the ingredients for a great dinner party. To make your next soiree really memorable (and enjoyable for you!), we asked a few gracious hostesses around the world for their tips on how they make it look so easy.
A Bit of Bubbly
In the heart of Burgundy, France, an American mother-daughter duo has been hosting dinner parties you only wish you could score an invite to. The Cook’s Atelier is an epicurean center, cooking school and wine shop in historic Beaune, run by Marjorie Taylor and Kendall Smith Franchini. They recommend beginning any party with a glass of chilled bubbly (we couldn’t agree more!) and a Burgundian classic, gourgères (savory, cheesy pastries).
“Our style of entertaining is never fussy, but we really believe that it is all about the details,” Franchini says. “For us, great entertaining is all about good food and wine, ambiance and sharing a meal around the table with family and friends.”
Parties thrown by excellent hostesses appear effortless—but they’ve been working behind the scenes. Taylor says to spread out the tasks over the course of several days.
“Menu planning and shopping can be done early in the week, but save the few important details, like flower sourcing or fresh bread, to the day of your dinner party,” she says. “Set the table the night before and make sure your glassware is clean and sparkly. Make your dessert the morning of your dinner party and get as much as possible done regarding the necessary prep work before your guests arrive.”
Use the “Good Stuff”
Franchini’s advice: Don’t save your best things for “special occasions.” Instead, get them out onto your table and enjoy them—even for informal dinners!
“We love how the crystal sparkles on the table when surrounded with candlelight,” she says. “We like to incorporate some vintage items too, such as French linens, and flatware that we find at our local village brocantes. We also like to incorporate a touch of whimsy, such as garden flowers from our one of our favorite artisan food producers, Madame Loichet.”
Attend Your Own Party
Cooking countess, author and winemaker Enrica Rocca runs cooking schools with her daughters in Venice, Cape Town and London, where she teaches students the art of food, wine and European entertaining. Rocca’s number one tip: Don’t forget to enjoy yourself!.
“Cook dishes that you feel comfortable cooking as well as dishes that will not take so long to prepare, so that you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen missing your own dinner party,” she says.
Your food will taste better if it’s made with food that’s in season. Plan a simple menu that showcases seasonal produce.
“Seasonal ingredients will ensure you can find the ingredients you need with no stress and will make your dishes taste much better,” Rocca says. “Plus, it is better for the environment.”
Set the Scene With Texture
Christine Clark of curated home goods website Perry Clark Home believes many of the principles of good decorating apply to entertaining. Everyone spends so much time on preparing food and drink, but even before your guests take a bite, set the mood with the right music, elegant table decor and scents that don’t overpower the food.
“When serving food on a buffet, mix and match textured pieces,” she says. “For example, combine an elegant white terracotta dinner platter with a hardwood salad bowl. As long as your pieces are more neutral, blending textures looks warm and beautiful.
Delight the Senses
Nothing kills the mood faster than harsh lighting. Clark says to light candles before guests arrive and consider scented ones that complement the time of year or party theme (think: flower scented candles in spring, Frasier fir during the holidays).
“In the evening, be conscious of lighting and use dimmers in the dining room,” she says. “Think ahead and create a custom playlist that’s appropriate for the event. Even music played quietly in the background helps create an inviting buzz.”
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