Entertaining 101: Planning a Dinner Party

As the school year comes to an end, the social calendars are in high-gear.  Everyone wants to get one last drink or dinner in, whether you are saying goodbye for good or just a couple months.  Instead of dealing with the whole getting-a-table-in-Central hassle, try entertaining at home!  Here,  Swoon Soirées Brenda Wilson, party-planning extraordinaire, offers her must-dos for creating a simple, chic, adult fete.

Key Tip:

It’s all about the planning! Do all the preparation in advance so that you have a stress-free party.


The Lead-Up:

Determine the look and feel of your event. If inspiration fails, take reference from the seasons (spring/summer or fall/winter). The rest of your planning can be based on that: cocktails, menus, and decoration can reference the color palette, flavors, and visual elements of that time of year.

Mood Music:

Music sets the tone for your event. If you have time, consider your tunes for three settings: cocktails, dinner, and after dinner drinks. Your choices can change the energy and mood of the moment.

Plan Your Décor:

Don’t overlook the small touches that will turn your “meal with friends” into a “unforgettable evening”.

Focus your energy on creating a beautifully set and styled table. Always start with a crisp tablecloth or runner to lay the foundation. I find that it’s easier to actually make a tablecloth than to buy them in HK. A quick trip over to Sham Shui Po’s fabric market and a little iron-on fabric tape (found at Ikea) can result in the perfect table accessory.

The Personal Touch:

Add something special to each place setting, whether it’s a personalized placecard, an amuse-bouche on a spoon, or a silly conversation starter tied with a ribbon. Delight your guests with something unexpected.

Candles are the perfect party accessory: they are inexpensive, readily available at Ikea and create an amazing ambience.

If space permits, prepare a separate sideboard for displaying desserts, coffee cups, dessert plates, silverware, etc. This creates more visual interest and signals to guests that they have a wonderful evening in front of them. Best of all you are already organized with everything you need for each moment of the evening.

Styling Tips:

Even if you are not an accomplished baker, everything looks better on a cake stand (a good investment even for the occasional hostess).  Find classic, milk-glass versions at  Swoon Soirées or basic ones at Ikea.

You can never go wrong with fresh flowers (and if they match your tablecloth, even better!).  The style of the event will help dictate the formality of the arrangement. When in doubt, again, take inspiration from the time of year. Arrange flowers loose and lovely in a menagerie of low jars for spring and summer, for example.


Set the Bar High:

Prepare a signature cocktail in advance; pair wines with your menu; and have a beautiful after-dinner digestive available to close the evening.

If space permits, create an ad hoc mini-bar. Set out your sparkling stemware, a bucket of ice with chilled champagne, a specialty drink ingredients (particularly for the after-dinner digestif), a candle or two, and a small vase of flowers. If necessary, guests can then help themselves as you put the finishing touches on your dinner preparations.

What’s on the Menu:

Whether you are planning a beautiful home-cooked meal or a small, catered affair, serve for the season: Fresh and fabulous in the spring; light and lovely in the summer; and cozy in the fall and winter. And, of course, check in advance if any of your guests have a special dietary restriction and plan accordingly.

To start, select a small variety of pre-dinner nibbles and serve on a beautiful tray.

Delight with Desserts:

A special event is balanced between a beautiful welcome cocktail and a gorgeous dessert. Offer both small sweets — like a plate stacked with macarons or chocolate truffles served in a vintage milkglass candy dish — and something more luscious. A nod to the seasonality of your menu creates a seamless experience from start to finish.  Unless we are talking about homemade chocolate cake, then I’m afraid all styling sensibilities are off! Got any vanilla bean ice cream to go with that?

Make an Entrance:

Greet each guest with a signature cocktail or aperitif. This instantly creates a warm welcome and sets the tone for casual conversation. Never leave guests standing alone, even if they came as a couple. If you need to dash away to check on something, casually introduce your guests to others before a gracious exit from the conversation.

Enjoy Yourself:

You’ve done all the work in advance. Your guests have arrived. Now it’s time to party!

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