If there’s a gene for throwing amazing dinner parties, I didn’t get one. Yet, I’ve always wanted to throw one; I just never knew where to start. It shouldn’t seem so daunting, I have made many a Seder and Shabbat dinners, yet a dinner party seems completely different. I want to throw an elegant and sophisticated dinner party.

So, I decided to do some research on the subject. This is what I found out: The first step, when planning a dinner party, is to decide who to invite. You can make the guest list bigger or smaller—it’s up to you. Make sure you invite a good mix of people— couples, singles, men, and women. If there are two or three people you’re on the fence about inviting—wait. If any of your guests are not able to attend, then you can invite the fence people.
Next decide what you’re going to wear. Make it something stylish but comfortable, like a wrap dress. You’ll also want your hair in a style that you don’t have to fuss with. Add some simple yet elegant makeup and comfy shoes and you’ll be good to go.

Once you know what you’re going to wear, it’s time to plan the  menu. This is probably the most exciting part of throwing a dinner party. It’s also a little scary. It’s difficult to find a main dish that everyone will like. Find out beforehand if any of your guests are vegetarians or have any other special dietary needs. If so, plan the menu accordingly. It’s best to have a variety of foods that will appeal to everyone. Plan for dinner to be ready about a half hour before your guests arrive. It’s not cheating if you want to hire someone to prepare the meal for you.

Decorate the house early in the day, so you don’t feel rushed. An easy and classy way to jazz up your home is to dim the lights and light some candles and place pretty bouquets of flowers on tables to warm up the room and add some color.

Decide what sort of music you plan to play. Music will set the mood and help make people feel more at ease, if there’s a lull in the conversation. Play upbeat tunes. Using Internet radio should give you a good mix of artists and genres that your guests will all like. You could also plan a dinner party mix on your iPod.

If it’s winter, know where you’re going to put your friends’ coats. If you’re going to hang them up, be sure to have enough hangers. Once a few guests are present, it’s time to start serving appetizers and drinks. You can serve your friends yourself, or you can hire waiters and waitresses to pass the food. Plan to serve two or three different appetizers. You can also place nice bowls with snacks and nuts and trays of vegetables on tables to offer more variety. Drinks are up to you. You can make it a non-alcoholic party or if you want to serve alcohol, but not hard liquor, you can serve wine—or you can make cocktails for your friends. If you decide to serve alcohol, also have non-alcoholic beverages for friends who want to abstain. Hiring a bartender is a good idea.

You don’t have to use good China, but you should have enough cutlery and nice plates for everyone. Decorating your table is just as important as decorating your house. Use a linen tablecloth, cloth napkins, and wine glasses. Your guests will spend the majority of their time at the table, so pay special attention to your table settings and centerpiece. You’ll also want to think about whether you want assigned seating. If you do, make name cards for everyone.

Hopefully your guests will love the food and conversation will flow freely. After dinner, it’s time for dessert. Like the appetizers and main dish, you will want to make sure you serve a dessert that everyone will enjoy but one that you don’t have to spend hours preparing. Cupcakes are in style. Fruit is always a good choice, and who doesn’t love little pastries?

The last step is to have fun! Smile! You’ve spent a lot of time planning and cooking, so make sure you enjoy yourself. Take your time. Savor the food and talk with your guests. The one thing everyone has in common is you. If you sense the conversation lagging, pick it up. If you know two of your guests have similar interests, tell them. Make everyone feel very special and comfortable. People have more fun when they feel at home. Leave all the cleaning until after everyone leaves, so your guests don’t feel like they have to help. Or better yet, have one of the people that you’ve hired for the night do the cleaning.

Dinner parties require a lot of work but they’re definitely worth the time and energy you put into them. Remember, even if things don’t go perfectly the first time, practice makes perfect!

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