It isn’t as scary as it seems. I promise. There is one key word to keep in mind, and that word is Fun. Whether you are putting on a formal dinner or a cocktail party with heavy Hors d’oeuvre, fun is the main ingredient.
Plenty of preparation for successful entertaining for both Formal, and Informal entertaining is at the top of the list. This will help keep stress levels to a minimum.
Let’s do formal versus casual entertaining in your home. Here are a few tips to make both types of entertaining a success.
- Make sure that everyone coming to your formal dinner can eat the food that you are preparing. Making a an incredible dinner with a fabulous salad, a beautiful beef tenderloin, red-skin potatoes and asparagus, ending with chocolate mousse sounds great to you, right? Well, your guest, Alfred, can’t eat because he is a vegetarian and is allergic to asparagus. Asking about food allergies and what types of foods your guest can eat is extremely important. Believe me; I had Alfred at my table once.
- Make sure the table is set correctly. Are you dining continental or are you dining American? As a Master Trainer for The
Protocol School of Washington, I know the difference between Continental table settings and American table settings. The difference is slight, but Alfred will notice. (See PSOW Dining Map). Having Alfred sit at your table and ask why the salad fork is on the inside, and he
will ask, could be embarrassing if your table setting is incorrect.
- Keep centerpieces low to the table. There’s nothing worse than sitting at a formal dining table and trying to talk around a huge table arrangement. While the table arrangement might be beautiful, it’s nice to see the person that you are talking to. If you are a person that does not believe in less is more, rather, More means a lot More, then make sure the table arrangement is tall enough that people can see under it. You might see some of these arrangements at weddings.
- Candles, Candles, Candles! Presentation is everything and nothing sets the stage better than the glimmer of candlelight. Not only should there be candles on the table, but there can be candles sprinkled around the room.
- Music. Music is part of the presentation. Try to have some background music that is appropriate to the age group of your party. Even better, if there is a theme, you can easily buy a CD to fit the occasion perfectly. I had a formal sit-down dinner party for an engagement party. They were getting married in Hawaii. Yes, you see it coming. I went out and bought a CD of beautiful
Hawaiian music. Wow! Along with the Leis, and Hawaiian centerpiece, it really set the stage. Theme parties are fun and easy.
- Map it out before you do anything. Visualize in your head what you want to have and where you want things to go. Once you put it to paper, it isn’t nearly as overwhelming, and you can start setting the stage a little at a time. This works very well if you are having a pre-set buffet, or a heavy Hors d’oeuvre cocktail party. You can use small crates and boxes or give your table highs and lows, cover with a table cloth and voila’ – a wonderful presentation.
- Don’t be afraid to mix and match. Be creative! This is supposed to be fun. Do you have a beautiful punch bowl that can double as your shrimp display? What about those vintage nuts bowls for dips? Don’t be afraid to mix and match napkins. I am a firm believer that if you use real napkins, a ham sandwich display turns into Salmon and capers if you have real napkins. You can collect these at vintage and antique stores for pennies.
- Use real forks and glasses. Yes, I know that Red Solo Cup is a great song, but purchasing real forks and inexpensive wine glasses will be worth its weight in gold. There are so many places that sell inexpensive forks and sell $1 wine glasses. The forks usually come in a package of 25 or 50. You would use the wine glasses for soda, water and wine. The forks you can put on the buffet inside a napkin-lined basket. Again, presentation is everything. Buyer beware – once your guests see that you have these items, be prepared to lend them out.
They will be calling you!
- Music. The same as for formal entertaining. Background music and candlelight WILL make any party. Additional Tip: Don’t be afraid to move around some furniture to give your guests plenty of room to mingle. You don’t have to remove every bit of furniture as they did to poor George Banks in Father of the Bride, but make sure to remove any excess furniture so that your home has a nice traffic flow.
- Smile. If you’re not enjoying your party, you’re never going to have another one. So, space out the tasks, keep it simple and smile. Your guests, even Alfred, aren’t there to critique you; they are there to enjoy your company. Bon Appétit.