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Candles on a dinner table with wine glasses and crockery
Eat and Drink
January 2017
Reading time 5

Planning on hosting a dinner party soon? Our top tips will help things run smoothly for a stress-free evening

Throwing a dinner party is exciting. It's your chance to impress a group of friends with your culinary skills, your charming hosting abilities and to provide an evening of entertainment for everyone involved. But with a dinner party comes the inevitable pressure of trying to ensure things go smoothly – cue the stress. Our top tips should help you to prepare thoroughly, leaving you able to enjoy the evening and give your guests a night to remember (for all the right reasons).

1. Preparation is key

It's important to plan thoroughly when hosting a dinner party. Make a list of everything you need, from the table decorations to noting a reminder to move the dog upstairs for the evening. By ticking things off there's less that could go wrong.

2. Know who eats what

It's a good idea to ask in advance about any dietary requirements. Don't buy all the ingredients for your menu only to find out that Michael's new girlfriend doesn't eat lamb.

3. Pick the right menu

Although it's tempting to try something elaborate you've found in your new recipe book, it's a much better idea to re-create dishes you know have worked before. Consider a menu that can be prepared in advance and won't mean you're absent from the dining room for the whole night. Also, think about how dishes will work together, so if you're having a heavy main opt for a lighter starter. You don't want your guests to leave feeling uncomfortably full or still hungry.

4. Mix up your table plan

Split couples up and try to arrange the seating so people are mixing with guests they don't know as well. It's a good idea to lay name places, but if you don't want to do that, guide guests where you'd like them to sit. Don't leave it as a free-for-all – it'll just get awkward.

5. Play music

Even if you're having a whale of a time it's always good to have some music on in the background so if there's a lull in conversation you won't hear the clinking of cutlery on plates. Make your playlist in advance so there's no risk your secret love of power ballads will be exposed.

6. Lay the table early

Don't leave the table until the last minute. You don't want your guests to have to see you awkwardly rummaging in the kitchen drawers for the candles you forgot to put out earlier, or to find you only set half the cutlery in your haste. Remember to also leave salt and pepper on the table, as even if you fancy yourself as a bit of a Nigella, your guests might prefer to add a little more seasoning to suit their taste.

7. Keep the drinks flowing

There's nothing worse than a dinner party when the drink runs dry. Buy more drinks than you think you'll need and keep topping everyone up throughout the evening. Equally, if one of your guests says they've had enough, listen and don't be that annoying persistent person.

8. Prepare back-up games

In the unlikely event that conversation will start to flag, have some back-up entertainment at the ready, like Articulate or a game of Heads Up to lighten the mood. A way of interjecting fun into the evening – without being too forced – is to write challenges on the back of name places to complete throughout the evening. Give them sentences they need to try to slip into conversation without being caught out, with a forfeit for those who are.

9. Wait on 

Don't let your guests help clear up at any point in the evening. You're the hostess and the only person who should be tidying up is yourself, or you and your partner. Do try to clear some of the mess after your guests have gone to avoid a bomb site in the morning.

10. Thank you etiquette

If your guests bring a token of thanks for the evening like flowers, wine or chocolates, you don't need to send them a thank you card – this was theirs for the dinner party. Show your appreciation on the night and you can always mention it on an email, but a thank you for their thank you isn't necessary.

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