Wow Your Guests With A Summer Dinner Party

Fun fact: I used to be an event planner. I have this tendency to learn/do as many things as my body and brain will let me during one time. After planning my own, very large, wedding, I was approached by someone who saw my pictures and wanted me to plan theirs.

As an attorney, I quickly formed a business and dove in head first without a second thought. After my first, which was surprisingly a success, I was able to plan additional weddings. With time I ended the business because it was just too difficult to practice law full time, plan weddings, and do all of the other things I love (like this blog).

But, in my time spent planning events, I learned some key principals that are easily applied to at home events. I am a sucker for a good dinner party, and love having my friends over so I can cook for them. It is also a great way to test new recipes. What I do not love is spending the entire night in the kitchen while everyone else enjoys the fruit of my labor. So here are some tips on how to avoid that:

Disclaimer: these photos were taken before I had a DSLR.

  1. Find a Friend: What I mean by “Find a Friend” is quite simple…do not do it alone. Find a friend that loves cooking or hosting as much as you do and ask for help. The trick is to give them credit for all of their hard work. Having someone help allows you to split who will prepare what dish, and it cuts your cooking workload in half. And if they are not a big cook, then give them something else to do; pour the wine, light the candles, etc.
  2. Take it Outside: Do not feel like you have to have the party in your dining room. Think outside the box, of course weather and temperature permitting. I know in Savannah the gnats and heat can be unbearable, so you would not want to host your dinner party outside in the August heat, but there are plenty of other cities that have normal if not pleasant summer weather. Pop out some tables in the yard or on your porch. The best part of moving everything outside, your home will not get as dirty as it would hosting everyone inside.
  3. Use What You Already Have: Do not go out and spend a bunch of money on decorations. If you do not have a table cloth, use a blanket. If you do not have enough chairs, make everyone sit on the floor or use mismatched chairs.  As you can see in the pictures I included, all the décor for this dinner party I already owned. To have enough seating for everyone, I lowered the tables by placing them on cinderblocks and put blankets with pillows on the ground for comfortable seating. The point is that you have to improvise. Improvising will create a more unique and one-of-a-kind experience for your guests to remember.
  4. Set the Table: The same principle as the last tip applies. Do not go out and buy a bunch of fancy dinnerware for your party. Use what you have to set the table in advance, even if it does not perfectly match. Setting the table in advance adds to the overall look and feel of the party, and it will make it feel fancy (even if it is not). As you can see in the picture above, I did not have enough wine glasses for every seat at the table, so I used canning jars (which I already had in my cabinet due to canning from my garden every year). If you don’t have enough of anything, mismatching is fine. I would recommend setting the table by staggering the mismatched items, instead of lumping all of the matching items together. This will create the effect that the use of all different dinnerware was intentional.
  5. BYOB: Some people are of the belief that hosting a party means the host provides everything. But lets be real, we are adults and the normal practice is to bring a bottle wine for the host when you attend an event at their home. Do not ask your guests to provide all of the alcohol, but ask that each couple bring one bottle of wine that they would believe none has ever tried before. As each bottle is opened you can ask your guests to explain why they brought it,  which is a great conversation starter during dinner.
  6. Lighting: One of the best ways to set a scene is lighting. That does not mean you have to go out and buy lights or hire someone to hang lights. That doesn’t even mean you have to hang special lights. It just means cut out the big bright overhead light and add a few candles or only keep your lamps on. I suggest candles. There is a reason why nice restaurants have beautiful lighting — it adds to the overall experience. Giving your guests that experience is as simple as adding some extra candles to the table setting.
  7. Music: Just as important as lighting is music. There is nothing worse than a silent dinner, but equally as bad is a dinner with music so loud that everyone has to scream over it to speak. The aim is nice background music that goes with the theme or overall feel of the party. Personally, I am a sucker for the Mississippi Blues, and because we were drinking out of canning jars and sitting on the ground, the blues fit perfectly with the feel of the night. Either create your own playlist in advance or save and use a playlist from your favorite music streaming service. Before the party, make sure the speaker is charged and everything is setup and ready to use (at the correct volume level).
  8. Cook Ahead: This is your dinner party too, which means you do not want to spend the entire night in the kitchen. Plan a menu that includes dishes that you can make ahead, and heat or cook the night of. Preparing food in advance does not mean the food has to be any less delicious, it just means you are going to have to take a little extra care in selecting the right dishes.
  9. Do Not Begin Your Dinner Immediately: The point of a dinner party is to spend and evening with friends talking and enjoying delicious food. It would be horrible to put a ton of work into your party, and have it end just as quickly as it started. My suggestion? Let everyone mingle (with drinks) for sometime before asking everyone to sit. Not only does this allow you to finish a few things in the kitchen, but it keeps the party from ending early once everyone has eaten.

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