One of the ways you can convince people you're an adult is having your friends over to your place for for dinner. But hosting your first dinner party is way more daunting than just throwing together nachos and putting on Netflix. And if Pinterest is any indication, the evening will require decadent place settings and fabulous floral arrangements and countless courses of Instagram-worthy dishes. In reality, bringing friends together around your dinner table doesn't have to be a terrifying task, and with a little bit of forethought, it can actually be pretty easy and even fun!
For those who have no idea where to start, or for those who want advice on how to elevate their dinner parties to the next level of elegance, look no further than Charles MacPherson. With more than 25 years of experience in butler-ing and household management for some of the world's most opulent households, "I am the professional who has insight into how to make entertaining and manners a natural part of your life," he explains. That sounds good to me.
MacPherson's newest book The Pocket Butler: A Compact Guide to Modern Manners, Business Etiquette and Everyday Entertaining offers unpretentious advice and simple tricks of the trade to help you add some luxury to your life without having to hire your own butler.
One area in which MacPherson has a lot of experience is hosting dinners, both formal and informal, social and business. The key to hosting a successful dinner party, according to MacPherson, is "to attend to your guests, and this attention is what allows them to relax and have a great time." And if you follow these seven tips from The Pocket Butler, you'll be prepared to tackle the evening and impress all your friends:
Think About Your Goal For the Evening
Before you go HAM on making those adorable centerpieces you see on Pinterest all the time, honestly think about the kind of event you're hosting. "What is the purpose of the meal? Is it formal or information; a meal for family or for business associates?" asks MacPherson. Think about how many people you're inviting, how many people can comfortably sit at your kitchen or dining room table, and how your apartment or home is laid out and styled. Taking a considered, methodological approach to planning a dinner party — and, like, actually knowing what you're trying to achieve — is the first step.
Give Everyone a Place To Sit
Even if it seems excessively formal, there is a utility to thinking about seating arrangements. At a minimum, it'll prevent any potentially awkward pairings (like accidentally having your ex-boyfriend sit down next to your current boyfriend because that's the only seat left at the table, oooooops), and at best, you'll help your guests connect with new people.
"North American tables are typically organized so that guests alternate male and female, with the host at one end of the table and the hostess at the other," writes MacPherson. “At a social event, I would recommend seating people so that there is some mingling of generations, but making sure that no one feels stranded without a person of their own age or interest group to talk to.”
Set the Table Properly
Don't feel like you have to go out and purchase a full set of expensive flatware and plates. “Styles of china can be mixed as long as they are complementary and work well together,” explains MacPherson. Make sure you pay attention to the size of the plates though, so that none of your guests feel like they're getting less than the person next to them, and be conscious about the overall effect.
“When combining different plates and patterns, think about the effect for the person sitting at the table." If you have any doubts, just use white dinnerware and jazz up the table with a centerpiece or a colorful table cloth. In The Pocket Butler, MacPherson gives detailed instructions on how to set the flatware and plates to make sure there's enough room between settings.
Make Sure Everyone Has a Drink In Hand
There are two tenets of entertaining, according to MacPherson: make sure everyone has someone to talk to, and make sure everyone has a drink in hand. "Generally, you should plan on 2 drinks per person for the first hour and 1 drink per person for each hour after that," suggests MacPherson. "And over the course of the evening, I’ve found that each person will consume approximately 2 lbs. of ice.” Got it?
Put Out a Pro-Looking Cheese Plate
A cheese platter makes for an easy hors d'oeuvres course because "Once served it does not require any further effort from the host or hostess, and guests can help themselves." Avoid this make this rookie mistake, though: You'll want to make sure you don't serve it chilled. "A cold brie has no flavor," explains MacPherson, "but a room-temperature brie that has been out of the refrigerator for a few hours comes alive and is a delicacy." Stale bread will also ruin a cheese platter, so MacPherson recommends leaving out the loaf and a cutting board for guests to help themselves.
Keep the Main Meal Simple
"When it comes to food, people always have the best intentions, but unless you can cook throughout the party, complicated menus fail... or you as the host resent the work because you spend all your time alone in the kitchen." For that reason, think about putting together a buffet in advance so you can spend as much time with your guests as possible. (Smart, huh?)
Remember the Little Things
Menu cards may seem overly formal for a small dinner party, but MacPherson maintains they are "a really great communication tool for your guests, to explain what the menu is all about." Same with beautifully folded napkins, which lend an air of refinement, but are easy to put together on your own. Thinking of these little details will elevate your dinner party, make it memorable, and ensure your guests have as much fun as possible.
So, do it! Throw that fine dinner party, you adult, you.