Last Friday I hosted a dinner party for 12 guests at my apartment and if I do say so myself, it was a MAJOR success! It was so good, as a matter of fact, I felt a need to analyze what set this dinner apart from others I’ve hosted.
Read below for the 5 key elements of what made it such a success.
1. THE GUEST MIX
I invited 12 women friends who are all extremely successful in the business world: entrepreneurs and founders, corporate execs, creatives. Ages ranged from 20’s to 50’s.
As I’ve written before, for a dynamic party, it’s key to introduce new friends to the mix but the new can’t outnumber those who already know each other. My rule of thumb is that one third of the group should be newcomers. In this instance, everyone knew at least 2-3 of their fellow guests, some knew more BUT everyone had some common connections e.g. workplaces, clients, other mutual friends, schools, hometowns etc.
2. SEATING CHARTS
Cannot overemphasize how important this is – I spend several hours arranging and re-arranging where people must sit in order to maximize conversation. Over the course of the dinner, seats do change but where you start out is crucial to the success of the mix. An interesting aside: when I do smaller dinners (4-6 guests), I usually do not have a seating chart and it upsets people – they genuinely want to be told where to sit!
As the first course is being served, I do a quick intro of everyone at the table. I focus on the one or two things that make the guest especially interesting for the group (sometimes it’s how we met, a quirky interest, something cool about their work or where they live). It makes for much more stimulating conversation.
This is frankly the least important element. It can’t be awful of course but when the cook spends too much time fussing over last minute menu items, I find it kills the flow or energy of the party.
I always cook/serve myself – I do not have help with the parties. Therefore, it is very important the menu be simple with much of it prepared in advance.
For this recent party, I served:
First Course: Endive/pear/walnut and gorgonzola salad (all prepared in the afternoon with only dressing added later)
Main Course: Baked cod with lemon, butter, capers, paprika and oregano
Side Dish: Red quinoa salad with beans, corn and queso fresco – prepared earlier and served at room temperature
Dessert: Ice cream, fruit, pumpkin pound cake (baked by the husband of one of our guests – thank you John Machamer!!)
Serving Suggestion: For this size group, I serve each course in 3 bowls or dishes so nobody has to wait too long to be served.
5. INVITE LOGISTICS
4-6 weeks in advance, I send out bcc invites to potential guests – generally with one or two dates and ask them if one or both work.
Based on the responses, I then send out an email invite with the best date (and let those who can’t make this date, know that the group has spoken!!).
I do 2-3 reminder/confirmation emails asking for any dietary restrictions and also letting people know what wine I am serving should they want to bring something. I also remind people, over and over, that it is a sitdown dinner so headcount is important!!
And that’s it!! It’s all I’ve got for you. But I do hope it encourages more people get back to hosting dinner parties- it is so much fun and nothing beats it for making life-long friends.