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While summer socializing is all about exploring beaches, rooftops venues and city streets, winter calls for a different strategy. Snow and freezing temperatures can make the prospect of venturing far from home to meet up with friends seem less than appealing. Fortunately, there’s an easy—not to mention classy—fix for those looking to get together with friends during the holiday season and beyond, one that doesn’t even require leaving your home: the dinner party.
Hosting a dinner party can seem intimidating, but with a bit of careful planning, it’s a breeze. The right strategy for putting together a dinner party involves curating the right guest list, planning the menu, setting a tablescape, and queueing up the perfect ambiance and outfit.
This year, in the interest of giving you a how-to primer, I hosted an early holiday dinner party for six of my nearest and dearest and took notes. Below, my top tips and ideas for how to throw the perfect dinner party—sans holiday stress.
Make a Guest List
The first and most obvious ingredient to any successful dinner party is the guests. Six is a perfect number. Four is lovely and intimate, but less of a party and more of a group dinner, whereas eight risks the entire evening being spent in breakaway conversations off to the side.
Of course, you can improvise with numbers based on whatever you and your apartment can handle. If the guests at your party may not already know one another, consider making place cards that to seat people you think might get along beside each other. After all, there’s no better place to spark a business or romantic partnership than a dinner party!
Stock Your Bar Cart
Whether you’re serving wine, cocktails, or non-alcoholic drinks, you’re going to want to make sure your guests have something to drink with dinner. If you’re serving a heartier meat, red wine could be an excellent pairing; fish and vegetables go well with white or rosé. In honor of the hot-button Sex and the City reboot, I served Sarah Jessica Parker’s new sauvignon blanc made in collaboration with Invivo X at my most recent soirée.
If you’re serving cocktails, make like Kin Euphorics founder Jen Batchelor and set up a drinks station so you don’t have to worry about refilling glasses all night. “The key is to have at least one cooler on hand with iced drinks—and don’t forget a separate ice bucket for cocktails,” says Batchelor.
And don’t forget a signature drink! “Having at least one ‘house cocktail’ made goes a long way,” says Batchelor, who recommends a non-alcoholic sangria, giving guests the option to top it off with brandy or champagne. As for post-dinner cocktails, I opt for espresso martinis for a fun, party-appropriate twist on post-prandial coffee—and in homage to the espresso martini’s status as the drink of the year. Loverboy’s come pre-made in a can, and keep my parties going another several hours.
Prep Food for Cocktail Hour
You’ll want to have something for guests to eat as they enjoy their pre-dinner drinks, to keep everyone in the right frame of mind for dinner. A cheese and charcuterie board is a classic option that can be as elaborate or simple as you like. A good rule of thumb is to have a mix of soft and hard cheeses with at least three options, plus a prosciutto or salami.
Round things out with crackers or baguette—and if you like, add on nuts, jams, mustards, grapes and cornichons. I usually make a big cheese and meat spread and add sliced vegetables and hummus for one of my vegan pals. And when in doubt, remember what all nice hotel bars know: A bowl of wasabi peas never hurt anyone.
Make or Order Food Ahead
Unless the thought of timing things out and cooking from scratch fills your heart with joy, allow me to recommend ordering in for your first dinner party. And while you can always order from a trusted local spot, there’s a way to make order-in more exciting than your traditional takeout. I use Goldbelly, which partners with top restaurants and chefs from around the country to deliver ready-to-go meals from their kitchens to your table.
While it ‘s almost impossible to narrow down my menu when options included the likes of Gramercy Tavern, Blue Ribbon Sushi and Russ & Daughters, I opted for iconic Israeli restaurant Taim at my latest dinner party, which offered plenty of vegan and non-vegan options alike. Pro tip: order just a bit more food than you think you’ll need—you never know how long people will want to linger around the table. Plus, leftovers are never a bad thing!
And a few considered touches can always make your order-in feel more luxurious and homemade. I served She Wolf Bakery bread—the female-founded supplier of many of my favored Brooklyn restaurants—with Kosterina’s extra virgin olive oil and Italian Balsamic Vinegar straight from Greece along with dinner. After dinner, I finished the night by bringing out some icing and asking my guests to help me decorate the gingerbread cookies I’d baked that afternoon while we sipped on espresso martinis.
Set the Vibe
Prepping the table and your apartment before dinner should get you excited and in the mood for your party. Set the ambiance by lighting candles around the apartment—Maison Louis Marie’s 004 are always burning in mine—and make a cozy, festive playlist. I made a playlist of holiday classics by Eartha Kitt, Bing Crosby, and Noel Coward for my latest event, but you can strike up a mood any time of year with jazz, or the always excellent playlists provided by the Hotel Costes, which happens to be one of the best hotels in Paris.
Don’t overthink it when it comes to setting the table. A simple white plate and bowl situation can easily be elevated with beautiful placemats or napkins, like this gorgeous set from Camilla. A few tea candles scattered in votives across the table will give everyone a lit-from-within glow, and a simple vase of flowers placed at one end of the table will bring in some greenery without making it impossible for everyone to see each other.
And while you can serve drinks in standard clear wine glasses, the colorful sets hand-blown in Poland from Estelle Colored Glass essentially take away the need for any other tabletop décor at all.
Dress to Thrill
And finally, you’ll need to consider your outfit. While the traditional dinner party advice is to dress comfortably in your own home, I say that dining/partying in gives you the opportunity to wear your most beautiful, uncomfortable shoes, and most daring tops and dresses without having to worry about your feet aching or wardrobe malfunctions happening far from safety. You’ll be in control of your look all night long and can always slip into something more comfortable if necessary. Go big—you’re already home!