Top 5 Insider Tips on Dinner Party Planning

1. Guest list: Invite a mix of people you like. Ok, it’s not that simple. But, chances are, people you like, will like each other. It’s nice if people have a common thread of interest to spark conversation, but they should not all be in the same business or you’ll have a night of nothing but shop talk. Vary the age range. Baby boomers and millennials have lots to talk about. Someone you know to be a great story teller is always entertaining. The controversial or strongly opinionated? Fine, if you know when to cut off a dicey conversation. No sense of humor? Need not apply. Always ask one very close friend or couple to arrive 10 minutes early, for last minute help, and so the actual first arrival doesn’t feel like they are the first to arrive. Awkward!
2. Food: Ask all guests in advance if they have any dietary restrictions. Anything they can’t or won’t eat. Used to be, hosts didn’t need to do this, but in this day of gluten, dairy, nut and other allergies, as well as vegans and vegetarians, it is a must. (Trust me, been there) Give people an appetizer as soon as the first drink is served. Doesn’t have to be fancy, a bowl of nuts, olives or good cheese  is fine, just make sure you offer something with the drinks as an icebreaker. For your dinner, stick to tried and true recipes that have been a hit. Or, test a new recipe a week or two before the party, just to make sure it works, which is what we did for the Lemon Souffle Pudding Cake. (and it was fabulous!)
3. Décor: Fresh flowers. Wherever and however you can. A bud vase with a single red orange gerbera on your cocktail table elevates the ambience. A vase of seasonal flowers on the dinner table and on the mantel. If you can’t afford, or don’t have access to fresh buds, lop off a branch from a tree in your yard, and plop it in a big vase. Or fill a big bowl with in season fruit and/or vegetables. Pretty, natural, and no biggie. Same thing for candles. Candlelight makes rooms glow and people look 10 years younger. A few interesting objects on the dinner table that tie in with your color scheme or theme add personality and can act as conversation starters (like the pink poodle foo dogs on my table.)
4. Beverages: Most people these days seem to prefer beer or wine. Make sure the beer and wine you stock offers a variety of styles (IPA, lagers, red and white wines, etc.) I always have vodka, scotch and brandy on hand with club and sweet soda, tonic and a fruit mixer in case a guest requests a mixed drink.
5. Music: Make a playlist of a variety of music styles, from bossa nova to disco to big band to classic rock. Nothing too raucous or too sedate. And have music playing when people walk in the door. The party has started!
6. DIY: I’m for it! If you plan and prepare the meal yourself, you will have confidence in what you put on the table. My mother taught me this, “Someone walking into my kitchen and saying, ‘Here, just warm this up at 451 for 34 minutes!’ drives me crazy!” Exceptions to this rule: appetizers and dessert. They can be contributed or store bought (why not!), just as long as you know in advance.