Firstly, I am not into fancy dress dinner parties, mainly because I don’t like the concept, this is just a personal choice of mine. However, I do expect my guests to arrive dressed better than if they were going down to the local pub or a casual restaurant.
It’s All in the Planning
By this, I mean it’s very important to plan every aspect of your dinner in advance, starting with your invitation. Unless it is a very formal dinner, where you would send invitations in the mail, a personal invitation by telephone is the way to go. You should explain the occasion, if there is one. If there is no specific occasion, explain how you’re gathering friends together to enjoy a special night. If you are having a theme to your menu, let them know so they know what to expect. Advise the time (allow for pre-dinner drinks) and date, and your invitation is complete. Invitations should be made two to three weeks ahead, and this will confirm the number attending.
Planning the Menu
The menu is obviously the most important item of the evening, so work out your menu at least two weeks ahead. For example, one summer I gave a dinner party called ‘An Italian Affair to Remember’. I adapted my menu so it had all Italian ingredients from canapes through to entrée, main course and dessert. Once you have chosen a theme, make you sure you stick to it. However, if you don’t have a theme, you should really try to keep to a similar style of cooking. It is really confusing to offer, say, an Italian entrée followed by a Chinese main course!
To make sure you are not confined to the kitchen all evening, keep your meals very tasty but very simple. Choose meals that can be ready well in advance, at least 24 hours before, then all you have to do is cook or finish them on the evening of the dinner.
It is usually accepted that pre-dinner drinks are offered, so have a selection of wines, spirits and spirit mixers, beer, soft drinks and distilled water with lemon slices. For the dinner – red wine, white wine, desert wine and, of course, water. Appropriate wines should be served with each course.
This is the fun part – I’m going to give you an example of the decorations I used for ‘An Italian Affair to Remember’. For the table decorations, I designed a menu for the three course dinner, doing it on-line in red and green type on white card paper, the colours of the Italian national flag. I used a crisp white tablecloth, with red and green place mats, red for female and green for male. I also used coloured name tags of red and green card with silver handwriting. This makes it more comfortable for guests when they know who they are sitting with. The table napkins were also in keeping with theme by using red and green tied up with white string.
To brighten up the table and keeping with the Italian theme, for the centre piece I filled several low vases with red flowers that had green foliage on them, which fitted in with the Italian colour scheme. I placed a line of these vases along the middle of the table – it looked amazing!
A great budget tip if you want to follow this idea, zigzag shiny vessels along the middle of the table. I’ve used recycled food tins, each holding one or two showy red blooms. It looked very stylish and is a great way of presenting your arrangement on a budget. Alternatively, instead of flowers you can use small topiary plants along the middle of the table. To add further ambience to your table and decorations, place several small candles among the table decoration – they really gave it a wow factor!
When I completed the table decorations, I went to work on the surrounding area. Being a summer dinner party, I set up the table under our pergola, which has a very high pitch roof. I draped red, white and green soft floating fabric (bought from a budget fabric store) in the roof area and around the edges of the pergola; this gave it the effect of a logia, with fabric draped all around the perimeter. To keep with the theme, I sourced where I could buy some small Italian flags to hang from the ceiling. That was easy, because the local Italian club were more than happy to supply them.
The next part was the lighting, a very important aspect of any dinner party. You need lighting that creates the right ambience and air of romanticism while allowing people to read the menu.
I lit as many candles as I could and also had two chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. These were very old chandeliers that I found at a recycling store and painted, while the third light feature was the pièce de résistance. It looks like a candelabra, but it’s really a metal tray through which my partner drilled three holes to attach hanging chains. All these together created a great look.
To complete the ambience, I recycled some old glass ceiling lampshades by painting them in a translucent red paint and placing them throughout the garden as candle holders. As you can imagine, with the candle light, beautiful table decorations, great food and wine, plus soft Italian music playing in the background, the outside entertaining area was like a scene lifted from the Italian Riviera!
Alternative Tips and Ideas for your Glamorous Dinner Party
Solar lights in the garden are great, especially if you use a lot of them
Olive tree foliage or Bougainvillea foliage and flowers are a good alternative for your table (very Mediterranean plants)
Have the fabric draped over your front gate to get your guests in the mood
Make sure the music is Italian and romantic
Different alternatives for place mats – mirror squares, laminated pages of newspaper, laminated page of Italian script (or laminate whatever theme you choose)
Brown paper bags opened up and then turned down – used as small candle holders in the garden
Rolls of brown paper used as a tablecloth – a very natural and earthy look
Red wine glasses look great on a white tablecloth – add to the colour theme.