It’s never too early to start thinking ahead when planning on hosting your first dinner party. Creating a beautiful table makes the simplest occasion feel special – from an intimate dinner party with friends to a large family gathering. To make your event memorable and run smooth, it is important to start planning the details sooner than later!
Accommodating Table Layout
First things first, you need to determine the guest count when hosting any dinner party. Knowing the maximum number of attendees is critical in figuring out how much seating space will be required. If your goal is to seat everybody together, you will either need a lot of space or be willing to modify your guest list until everybody fits.
Open floor plan homes offer the best solution to find extra dining space. The easiest solution is purchasing a table that has built-in extension options. The next best solution, is adding a folding table to the end of your current table. The most common solution, is to put an separate table next to your main dining space, primarily it saves you the hassle of having to move your whole living space around.
A great option for when you cannot get everybody seated around one table is to create an age-appropriate seating zone. A bonus to doing so, is your younger guests might not be bored by adult conversation. Adults might also appreciate having an adult zone and getting a break from their kids, too!
Providing a “kid friendly” table also gives you the opportunity to put it in an area that is easier to cleanup spills. This can take your hosting stress level down, especially if you live in a home with with light colored carpet. (quick tip: make sure that you have at least 1-2 responsible kids that can watch the younger children).
More Seating Required
Even if your table expands, 4-6 chairs are standard for everyday use so you might find yourself at a seating shortage. Pulling a few “random” chairs from around the house is common, but makes everything look mismatched.
A hodge-podge of chairs isn’t going to ruin your party, but it’s nice to have consistency, especially hosting formal events. To step up the formality, using Universal Chair Covers, is a great way to help “miss-matched” chairs suddenly coordinate. (quick tip: matching random chairs across from each other, by style or height, helps create balance. It may take a couple of tries, do it until the layout is pleasing to the eye).
If you plan to host gatherings and have storage space, it’s a good investment to purchase folding chairs/tables to have on hand. This is especially beneficial when summer comes around and you want to host outdoor get-togethers. However, if funds are limited, outsourcing through a rental company is a great short-term solution.
An additional benefit with folding chairs is their smaller size, which allows you to accomodate more people at the table and easily reconfigure seating when compared to big, decorative chairs.
Handling Seating Issues
Children and babies are always a challenge when determining seating layout, as well as guests with mobility issues. So it’s important to keep your guests’ needs in mind when determining spacing for seating arrangement.
Parents and newborns typically need to be close to each other, usually infants will be in a carrier next to their mother or father. Just make sure there is space available close by for baby. Toddlers are the most challenging, usually requiring more space for a high-chair.
If you know you have a tight seating arrangement, you may want to consider place cards. It’s a great way to handle guests that require special seating accommodations and can assist with keeping conversation moving. If you are bringing new people together, arranging guests that have something in common can help avoid awkward silences during dinner parties. (quick tip: for prodomeint “lefty’s”, place them at the table end or left- end side of the table to give them extra elbow room for eating and drinking).
Choosing Your Service Style
Choosing buffet, family-style, or plated meal is going to help determine formality and space requirements for individual place settings. The menu as well will factor into what will be required to have out on the table (think steak knives, soup spoons, salad fork/plate, wine glasses, etc.).
Family Style dining is the most common, but it doesn’t allow much space for doing an elaborate centerpiece since food is served in large bowls, platters and dishes for self-serve passing. Keep in mind with this service style you can always put the serving platters/bowls back in the kitchen or on a seperate table once everything is passed.
There is nothing more impressive than a plated dinner, but you may want to hold off. Although this style offers the most elegant of food presentation, the downside of plating a meal is you will be working your tail off! A great compromise is opting for a pre-plated salad only, then slowly working up to a fully plated menu with multiple courses.
A Buffet Style dinner is a perfect option for “first time” dinner hosts. Guests serving themselves makes your hosting life easier, plus addressing common issues of allergies/food preferences by labeling the food. Incorporating food that your guests provide, known as “potluck” style, makes things even easier for you as a host. Finally, the biggest benefit of buffet style: it leaves your tabletop open to decorate more elaborately!
Selecting Your Place Settings
There is nothing wrong with using “disposable” plates, just avoid skimping here. Especially with buffets, the last thing you want is for a plate not to hold up on the way back to the table. The time saved doing dishes verses cleaning up the floor does not even compare to the money you’ll spend on repairs if it happens to be on carpet.
Consider bringing out your “best” dinnerware to really give your table a special touch. If you happen to have complimentary patterns, you can alternate to make your table settings look more cohesive to expand your setting count. Also, consider using Charger Plates, it adds formality and brings in continuity to the table design.
Multiple patterns aren’t a big deal, especially if you stack plates next to the buffet food line, once food’s on the plate it won’t matter. You can even have some fun with it, even start a tradition of the recipient of the mismatched plate receives a special honor!
However, if “mix-and-match” isn’t your style, look at going with rentals. This goes for all your tableware needs, such as water/wine glasses, flatware, charger plates, etc. And don’t forget your serving pieces, too!
Renting is also wonderful choice if you don’t entertain very often, or rarely are required to host large family gatherings. The best part with renting your dishes, washing usually is not required!
Selecting Table Linens
Base linens are the foundation of table design, but are not necessarily needed unless you have a dining table finish that requires protection. However, if you’re looking to step up your table game, adding a linen is the perfect starting point.
Over time, most people will acquire at least one table linen that works with their table. If you do have your own, remember to check them well in advance. Discovering you have to re-wash or iron on an already terribly busy and stress filled day is never good. Worse yet, finding out the linen you typically use is not long enough after adding in a second table. (quick tip: bed sheets can also work to cover your tables if you are really in a pinch).
Simplification is key, and rentals are a great way to coordinate/complement your table linen needs, be it standard or linen-to-the-floor. If you have an odd size table, a rental associate can help you select the proper fit, offering many style/colors to choose from. The best part of renting linens, is they come ironed and when done, you do not have to worry about doing the laundry!
Picking an Accent Color
Color is a relatively inexpensive way to jazz up your base table design without adding much effort. Here again, outsourcing specialty table linen runners or overlays is a great option especially for “one-off events”. Dressing-up your base linen with a little bling or holiday pattern will make your table and centerpiece shine.
Napkins alone can provide high visual impact – there are many interesting napkin folds and treatments to make your table setting unique. You can even use them as an inexpensive overlay down the center of the table, especially if table space is limited. (quick tip: place napkins on the diagonal to create a fun diamond pattern.)
Adding the Final Touches
A simple pre-made grocery store floral bouquet will do the trick, but this is where you can let your design creativity can shine. Creating your own custom centerpiece is always going to show off your hosting skill and thinking outside the box is always encouraged here.
Look at items in your home first, the more you have, the less it will cost to add the final details. For example, using wine glasses as votive candle holders, multiple bud vases lined up with a single bloom can save you money. Stacking your Christmas ornaments in a bowl or in an arrangement will offer high design impact with zero cost.
You can go low or go high, the choices are endless, but only one rule needs to be followed… make sure your guests can see across the table. Other than that, just make sure you have fun and try to capture the spirit of the season!
Time for set-up
Do a trial-run of your setup allows you to gage your timeline, catch anything you may have overlooked, and gives you confidence that you’re ready. The more prepared you are, the more ready you’ll feel. When you can be relaxed, you’ll ultimately be a more confident host. Entertaining becomes easier the more you do it… the most important thing is to just have fun!