With the holiday season right around the corner, it’s the perfect time of the year for entertaining. We love hosting larger parties and celebrations, but there’s something special about an intimate, grown-up gathering.
Having an accurate guest count is essential for a dinner party. Sending out formal invitations is a great way to remind your guests to RSVP and set the tone for your event. For a formal dinner party, it’s recommended sending out your invitations three weeks in advance, and asking guests to respond no later than a week before the event. Knowing your guest count a full week out will leave you ample time to plan your menu, grocery shop, and prep. Also, keep in mind that dinner parties are meant to be intimate. Invite a maximum of 8-12 guests for this type of gathering.
A beautifully set table is the canvas for a delicious meal. One idea is to go to the flower market the morning of the dinner party and arrange some fresh blooms for the centerpieces. If you are having floral centerpieces, the rule is to keep them low enough that guests can talk over them. You don’t want your guests craning their necks just to make conversation. A candlelit table is another brilliant idea, but stick to non-scented candles during a dinner party since you don’t want to interfere with the tastes and smells of your food. Pastries Magic (Thonglor Eight building in Bangkok) is a great place to look for cute cocktail napkins, striped straws and other little details. Set the table early in the day, before you even begin cooking, since it’s an easy step to get out of the way. Tip for small spaces: If you don’t have a big enough dinner table to host a large gathering, bring in a folding table for the night and cover it with an elegant table linen.
Assigned seating certainly isn’t a requirement these days, but it can help the conversation flow more effortlessly at larger parties. Put some thought into which guests have the most in common, and seat them next to each other. It’s always fun to play matchmaker or be responsible for a beautiful new friendship. Plus, assigned seating means the opportunity to craft some cute place cards to complement the table setting.
Music is one of the easiest ways to create an ambiance for your dinner party. Keep in mind that while background music prevents awkward silences during the meal, the volume should be kept low enough that it won’t interfere with conversation. Indie Alt-Folk music is great for a casual dinner party, and jazz or classical music works well for a more formal event. Classic holiday tunes are also fun this time of year.
Having hors d’oeuvres set out when guests arrive will give you some extra time to finish cooking while guests mingle and munch. A cheese plate and a platter of crudité is a good go-to. Set out platters at different spots throughout the living or dining area to guests from crowding in one corner of the room.
Make sure that you’ve asked all of your guests ahead of time if they have any food allergies or dietary restrictions. You don’t want anyone to go hungry or feel awkward refusing food. Also, stick with dishes you’ve made before. The day of your dinner party is not the time to experiment with that elaborate soufflé recipe you saw on the Food Network. Your guests will appreciate a simple, home-cooked meal as much as something more gourmet.
Dessert is the best way to ensure that everyone’s night will end on a sweet note. The dessert is just as much about presentation as it is about taste. So if you’re spending more time on the meal and want to keep dessert simple, you can dress up basic cookies or cupcakes by placing them on a pretty cake stand. It’s also nice to offer coffee or tea with dessert. If you’re only making one pot, decaf pleases most everyone after dinnertime.
Sticking with wine and one signature cocktail keeps things simple and classy. If guests ask you if they can bring anything, have them bring along their favorite bottle of vino. If you don’t already have a full set, it’s worth investing in it to use anytime you host a large gathering.
Hosting a dinner party should be enjoyable for the hostess too. Once your guests have arrived, relax and enjoy yourself along with them. Resign yourself to the fact that dishes can be done the next morning. Tonight, enjoy the good company, delightful ambiance, and delicious food you put so much work into. And if it really bothers you to have pots and pans sitting in the sink, place everything (even items you plan to hand wash later) in the dishwasher temporarily. This will get them out of the way for the night. Or, take up a friend’s offer to wash. Grateful guests are truly happy to help.
Try these four wine mantras to make planning your next dinner party a little easier:
1. Start with sparkling
2. Serve an esoteric white with appetizers.
3. Please the crowd with a dynamite red at entrees.
4. End the evening with sweet wine.
Why something sparkling?
Sparkling wines awaken the palate, as the effervescence literally dances on the tongue. A bubbles with bright acidity and delightful coiffability is a perfect way to start an evening. It’s elegant, tasty, and fun. It also avoids you having to ask “White or red?” in the middle of putting finishing touches on the first course.
Why an esoteric white?
Because to there is no way you can pick a white wine that everyone in the room will love. Some people worship tangy whites like Sauvignon Blancs. Others are Chardonnay lovers. Others beg “anything but chardonnay,” scoffing at anything that begins with “Chard,” yet reject Sauvignon Blanc, too.
You get the drift. By selecting an esoteric white, like Malvasia Bianco, Pinot Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, Gewurtramminer, etc, you sidestep people’s pre-conceived notions., By that fact alone, you’ll be more likely to find a crowd pleasing wine.
Not to mention that these varietals often offer floral and aromatic bouquets along with lush mouthfeels and racy acidity, making them delicious, especially with food.
That said, if you want to play it safe, it’s hard to go wrong with Sauvignon Blanc with a first course, be it salad, soup or other appetizer. Sauvignon Blanc from France, New Zealand or the US are all delicious ways to start a dinner party.
The movie Sideways did a great disservice to pop-culture loving red wine drinkers who lapped up Miles’ “Merlot is bad” message. Merlot happens to be the backbone of some of the world’s finest right-bank Bordeaux, and a fabulous stand-alone grape varietal. With subtle tannins and delicious red fruit flavors, this easy drinking wine is almost always a crowd pleaser. Less expensive than many Cabernet counterparts, it’s hard to go wrong with a Merlot as the pairing for the second course.
Sauternes, Port, Late Harvest Zinfandel, or Ice Wine – the choices are endless for great ways to end an evening with dessert wine. But if you’re looking for a great conversation piece as well as a delicious dessert, Canadian ice wine caps off the night nicely.
Ice wine maintains its mystique since most people haven’t heard of it. Like the name suggests, ice wine is made from grapes that were frozen. It’s the only reason that farmers pick grapes in December. In Germany, where the wine originates, the grapes literally freeze on the vine. In other parts of the world, producers usually artificially freeze them. But in chilly Canada, winemakers can follow the traditional German way, especially up in the area around Vancouver. Because freezing grapes drastically reduces how much juice can be extracted from them, even 375 ml. (half-bottles) of ice wine take several times more grapes to make. Thus, ice wine costs several times more than normal wine, usually upwards of 7000THB/(half-)bottle.
Still, ice wine is one of the great dessert wines because it’s both rare and versatile. While it complements light fruity desserts like a fresh fruit tart, it also brings out the richness of a chocolate torte. Bolder dessert wines like port lack this versatility.
Best of all, if you want to serve chocolate covered strawberries, you can still serve ice wine, which enhances the chocolate without overwhelming the fruit. It really is the jack of all trades of dessert wines.
Will you be hosting any dinner partied this season? What’s on your menu?