Setting The Perfect Dinner Table
Dinner parties exhibit all of the social graces that have developed through the ages. Society places great importance on this most formal of dining affairs. Throughout the world, dinner parties are used to welcome heads of state, celebrate successes, foster intimate work, family, and friend relationships, and to celebrate the civility to which man has evolved. Replacements, Ltd. is here to provide you with a number of entertaining tips, including how to plan such a function, how to coordinate china, crystal, and silver patterns, and how to astound your guests with a dining affair to remember.
The keys to preparing the perfect dinner party are: guest list, theme, attire, invitations, menu, and table setting. This article is designed to help your create an affair to remember.
Who will be attending your evening of romance, delicious foods, cordiality, and elegance? It’s the first question to ask when planning the perfect dinner party. By determining who will attend your event, you will be ready to set the correct number of place settings, plan for enough food, and know how your time will be stretched as the host. Be sure to plan for a few extras. You never know who might pop in!
More importantly than a single theme, dinner parties should exhibit cordiality, formality, etiquette, and stateliness. If you choose to use a theme for your dinner party, be sure to coordinate your theme with your invitations, your table settings, and your menu. A recent dinner party I attended was hosted by the president of my book club. The evening’s theme was “A Celebration of Shakespearian Literature.” Each place setting card featured a famous quote by the beloved English playwright and poet written in Gothic lettering. The table was adorned with muted green and taupe linens and topped with Wedgwood’s famous “Drabware” as the selected china. In keeping with the Elizabethan theme, dishes and drinks were served in pewter goblets and vegetable bowls. The evening’s menu consisted of items like “Julius Caesar Salad,” “Pineapple Glazed Hamlet,” and “Love Sonnet to a Chocolate Cake.” In preparing and executing your dinner party’s theme, the key is to make the night tasteful and elegant.
What am I going to wear? These days, this is quite the unassuming question. The rigidity of social expectations has relaxed. Decades earlier, no female would ever attend a formal dinner party without donning high heals, pearl earrings, and a dress cut tastefully beneath the knee. Times have changed and casual attire is much more acceptable. Your dinner party invitations should gently remind your guests of what they are expected to wear. If you are entertaining the Crowned Empress of Japan, then you will not want a co-worker showing up in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. On the other hand, you don’t want your boss to show up at a backyard July barbeque wearing a tuxedo and black tie. Finally, remember that you are the host. You want to look fashionable, sophisticated, elegant, and easily accessible. You are the one who will field your guest’s questions, answer the door, and guide much of the evening’s conversation. For that reason, you must look the part of a formidable host. Choose your attire carefully and remember your guests and your party’s theme.
Your menu is centrally important to your dinner party. Since the time of John F. Kennedy, each White House administration has showcased a variety of world cuisines. Both Nancy Regan and Barbara Bush featured French cuisine as their administration’s dining hallmark. Hillary Clinton used the White House kitchen staff to feature America cuisine. Your dinner party’s menu is just as important as the culinary decisions made by our former First Ladies. In choosing your menu, bear in mind your guest’s likes and dislikes, as well as your theme. Maybe your entrée will feature fish accented and garnished with delectable spices, such as rosemary, lemon pepper, or sage. If you are serving a meal whose entrée is fish consider using a china service such as Johnson Brother’s “Fish,” Portmeirion’s “Compleat Angler,” or Fitz and Floyd’s “La Mer.” Dinner parties often consist of multiple courses. As you plan each course, remember that one course should complement its successor. Don’t serve an overly spicy Cajun salad followed by a muted fish or chicken dish. Each course must complement the overall menu. If you choose to serve multiple courses, be sure to find a wine or beverage that complements the overall meal. Provide alternative dishes for those who are vegetarians or have food allergies. Also, be sure to offer alternative beverages for those who choose not to drink alcohol. You want your choice of menu to stand as a complement to your ability to host an illustrious dinner party.
An invitation to a formal dinner party is the means by which a host communicates to his or her guests what type of evening to expect. To begin with, you will want to select a method by which to communicate this information. In this day and age, it is often enough to simply send a group email with a request to RSVP in the subject line. On the other hand, more elegant affairs will require selection of a quality paper, ink, embosser, and/or calligrapher. Cotton fiber and banana leaf papers are both available in most stationary stores. In this day of computers, cell phones, faxes, emails, and pagers, hand scripting has become a lost art. Consider choosing a quality paper and treat yourself to a keepsake pen. Use these instruments to hand script your invitations. Your work is sure to create an air of intimacy between you and your guests. Larger affairs often require the employment of a printing company or professional calligrapher. You can check your local phone book if such services are deemed necessary. In your invitation, choose your words carefully and remember that the invitation is your first opportunity to set the tone of the evening. Communicate clearly what foods will be served, what each guest is to wear, and the time and location of the event.
With a little planning and help from your friends at Replacements, Ltd., your dining room table is sure to speak volumes about your ability to coordinate and host a memorable affair. Dinner parties are elegant, traditional, intimate, and formal affairs. Your table should look the part. Your linens should be clean, pressed, and starched. Remember to coordinate the color of your linens to the colors found in your china. Consider a starched linen napkin that has been folded into a pyramid and placed on top of each dinner plate (the Internet provides a variety of resources on how to present one’s linens, including napkins that are folded to look like swans and unique geometric shapes). If you are using patterns like Wedgwood’s “Runnymede Turquoise” then an elegant pink tablecloth is the perfect complement to a white linen napkin. If you are accenting the table with a simple uncut crystal, such as Rosenthal’s “Di Vino,” then you can fold each napkin into the shape of a fan, fold the bottom up, and place the napkins into each place setting's empty water goblet. These small accents create an air of enchantment to your dining affair.
After you selected your table’s linens, china, crystal, and silver, it is now time to select a centerpiece. Centerpieces come in a variety of physical forms, including tall statues, sterling candelabras, floral arrangements, floating candle gardens, and fruit baskets. Replacements, Ltd. offers a variety of each of these items, especially in our hollowware section. Recently, I attended a dinner where the table featured several 8” tall vases that were filled with blue marbles. Each vase contained 2 gold fish and in front of each of the displays were placards indicating that the fish were named after famous lovers throughout history – Romeo and Juliet, Henry and June, Anthony and Cleopatra to name a few. Later, I complimented my host saying what a wonderful idea the fish theme was. She explained that the fish sold for $0.15 a piece, the marbles sold at next to nothing, and the only additional cost was fish food and a bottle of chemicals to make the tap water livable for the gold fish. Ideas like this make a formal dinner party enchanting and fun.