Planning a Dinner Party

What are some general ideas to consider when planning a dinner party?
There are several things to consider when planning a dinner party. They include the guest list, the menu, and the beverages that will be served. Beginning with the guest list will in turn help you decide the rest.

Cathleen Hanson, who is one of the owners and founders of the International School of Protocol, which teaches proper etiquette to children, adults, educators, and businesses, offers this advice when planning a guest list: "Planning a dinner party is a lot of fun, and this is the attitude that the host and hostess should have. They should think 'How can I gather together a congenial group of friends?' It is all about people gathering, and of course it's about the food too. It is about the atmosphere. However, the most important thing is to think about is the celebration. It is a special occasion, and it is important to just remember it's a time to celebrate. You want to join people together. So, the first thing is to think about is 'Who is on my guest list?' The ideal number of people for the maximum interaction is actually five to eight. A dinner party of eight is ideal….This way you can exchange a lot of information and social interaction. Through communication research, studies have shown that five to eight people are perfect for interaction." If you do wish to have a larger party you should take into consideration that you may need some outside help in the preparing and serving of the meals and beverages. As the book, "Emily Post on Entertaining", published in 1987 by Harper & Row, says, what is important is "a gracious hostess and/or host who is welcoming and at the same time enjoys their guests. A hostess who spends the better part of the evening in the kitchen or running back and forth arranging things creates tension and cannot give her guests the attention that they should."

When considering the guest list, Cathleen has this advice, "In addition to thinking about the congenial guests, think of the guests' characteristics. You don't want to have a group of silent people, and may be you don't want to have a group of the most extroverted people either." Stimulating conversation and interaction requires a diverse group of people. When choosing how your guests will be seated she goes on to say, "Think to yourself, 'Who is the really good talker and who is someone who might not be as good a talker?' As you are putting this dinner party together, you can also possibly position the two of them at the table next to one another. We tend to sit spouses together. One thing to consider is to separate them. The spouses see each other all the time. They may want to interact with new people." There are no fast rules of etiquette to follow when creating a seating arrangement, only ideas. Do what works best for you and your guests. If you plan on having a buffet style dinner instead of a sit down dinner, you can still plan beforehand how to get certain guests to interact with each other. Cathleen suggests, "Think of what they might have in common or what would make them interesting to one another. You may want to introduce some people to one another."

When you have your guest list, it is now time to start planning the dinner menu. Here is where you will take into consideration all of the different guests that you have invited. We once again consult "Emily Post on Entertaining" where she advises: "First, one should always try to choose a well-balanced meal; an especially rich dish is balanced by a simple one, never served with another rich dish...combine flavors well so that every dish is not sweet nor every one spicy." She also reminds us that color is important in the aesthetics of the dinner table. While many tasty dishes are white, balance them out with some colorful vegetables to add drama to your place settings. Even the most formal dinner should never have more then six courses. Emily lists them as:
1. Soup, fresh fruit, or shellfish
2. Fish course, but only if shellfish wasn't served for the first course
3. The main course which includes side dishes such as vegetables
4. Salad
5. Dessert
6. Coffee

The above is just a guideline to show you that any more dinner courses would be unnecessary. You will have to adjust everything to suit the tastes of your guests. Some people are severely allergic to shellfish, some are vegetarians, and others may have diabetes or other health issues. These are all things you must take into consideration when planning your dinner menu.

Now we move on to deciding on what drinks will be served at dinner and/or afterwards. A lot of hosts and/or hostesses choose to serve wine, champagne, or other alcoholic beverages at some point during the evening. The standard is that white wines go with dishes such as fish and red wines should be served with red meats or wild game. When in doubt, ask a manager at the wine shop where you plan to purchase your wine. Also, take into consideration that some of guests may stay away from alcohol, so plan accordingly to offer other choices such as fruit punch or sparkling cider.