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When was the last time you hosted a good old-fashioned dinner party? Now, we don’t mean, When was the last time you had people over for dinner? It’s not the same thing! You can call people on Tuesday and go to the store Friday to buy all the ingredients for paella, and by Saturday, you can have a pretty nice evening thrown together.

We’re talking about something a little more purposeful than that. Because when we hear the words “dinner party,” we don’t just think about feeding people. We think about throwing a party. Our concept of a great dinner party starts in March with the idea of hosting a classic five-course French meal for 12 — or tapas for 18, or an Indian feast for eight — in June. It may be a small event, sure, but to us that doesn’t mean less important. Instead, it means we have the resources to pull out all the stops to make it extra fabulous.

Here are just some of the ways we recommend getting the job done.

Practice Your Menu (or Don’t Cook at All)

If you plan on doing the cooking yourself, you should build a menu out of some standby dishes that you already feel comfortable preparing and much of which can be prepared in advance. It’s OK to incorporate a couple of new items — but you need to practice making them several times before the event. You might even host a dry run with folks from the neighborhood a few weeks before the main event. Not only do you get another chance to host; you can work out any problems with timing beforehand and get some feedback about what dishes work best.

Another option, of course, is to have the meal catered, while focusing your energy on creating the right atmosphere for your event. The bonus here — and it’s a big one — is if there is a professional chef in charge of the meal, you can pay full attention to your guests and really experience and enjoy the event as well..

Pay Attention to Details

The difference between having folks over for dinner and hosting a real dinner party lies in thinking about this as an event rather than a meal.

  • Send out real invitations, ones your guests have to reach into their mailbox to retrieve. Include RSVP cards.
  • Tell them what to wear.
  • Consider hiring a bartender to make fresh cocktails for your guests and splurge on a great focal point, like a customizable round bar.
  • Use strategic lighting and rent some cool lounge furniture to create cozy ambience for an outdoor meal.
  • Bring in people to help with service. It might seem like a pretentious thing to do, but when you think about how much time you spend jumping up from the table to attend to every detail, it makes a lot of sense to entrust a professional.

Go with a Theme

Themes are great because they transport your guests into another world for the night and encourage playfulness. They also set the foundation for an ongoing tradition.

  • Put together a formal Japanese dinner. People take off their shoes at the door. You transform your home with sliding paper screens. Guests sit on cushions before low tables.
  • Ask each guest to come as the celebrity or public figure they would most want to invite to a dinner party.
  • You can tailor the theme to make it as specific as you like. Real life housewives, statesmen throughout the ages, literati, classic movie stars.
  • Give your dinner a Victorian or Elizabethan theme — with appropriate costumes and authentic cuisine from the era, of course.
  • Host a mystery theater dinner — with a meal like this, the entertainment is built right in.

Hire Entertainment

A friend of ours was telling us about the most amazing dinner she ever had. She and her family were driving through the South of France and stopped in the largest of the small towns in the region. There was only one restaurant, with a few outdoor tables, and there was only one, small menu. As they sat drinking a carafe of local wine and eating some delicious mussels steamed in white wine and garlic, some people arrived and set up a small stage. A few minutes later, they began traditional Basque clog dancing.

This story contains two things worth noting, actually. One is the importance of creating anticipation in a dinner party, or really any event. You can evoke the same mood of pleasant suspense simply by pairing a formal setting (the kind with many forks and knives) with live entertainment. Don’t be afraid to have the entertainment arrive and set up while guests are mingling with cocktails, which will create an enhanced sense of anticipatory pleasure.

The second point is that your entertainment should be appropriate to the event. Clog dancing just happened to go nicely with a humble French meal al fresco on a slow summer evening. You might prefer to have flamenco dancers, a string quartet, a magician, or an indie band perform. You don’t have to pay top dollar for entertainment, either. Call your local high school and see if there are any classically trained musicians for hire.

Dine al Fresco

We want to put in a good word for Mother Nature here. With clear nights most of the year, Coloradans have ample opportunities to dine outside. We love the idea of a garden party that begins and ends at a long table outside in the yard. Making use of a garden setting helps with the decor and ambiance, and there is nothing quite so charming as a formal table setting in the fresh air. Bring in some topiary to spruce up your outdoor space and don’t forget to rent some heat lamps. It’s going to get chilly after dark.

One Final Tip

Want some assistance putting your ambitious dinner party ideas into action? Pink Monkey can help you with everything from finding the right people to cater your event to creating sumptuous decor and lighting. We know how to give even a small party big impact, and we’d love to share our expertise with you.