The 5 Essential Elements of Planning a Dinner Party

Planning and hosting a dinner party can be a huge task for anyone, no matter how many times you have done it before. No matter how experienced you are, every occasion is different, and there are always special considerations you'll need to make during the planning stages. Fortunately, there are a few basic guidelines that will help you stay focused when planning a dinner party of any kind. These simple rules will help you to impress your guests and plan a wonderful, stress-free evening for everyone involved.

1. Consider the occasion. Sure, you always want to impress. But if, for example, you're hosting a casual party for your family and the neighbors, do not spend 12 hours creating complex recipes and hors d'voures that no one can even pronounce. Instead, make something personal, such as your own specialty recipe– something simple and "totally you" that you are still proud to serve.

If, on the other hand, your boss is coming over for dinner (and maybe to talk about a potential promotion) and you are really trying to impress, you'll want to make the food a centerpiece. Search for recipes that not only satisfy their hunger and tantalize their taste buds, but also serve as conversation pieces. There is nothing better than having the entire table discussing how special your cooking is.

2. Take special care with decorations. The right decorating does more than just look pretty. It can also change the way your guests feel. If you want to show off, use solid white dinner plates so that your food can naturally show off its form color. Place name cards at each place setting to tell guests where their places at the table are (this can also help if you have two guests that do not get along very well, because you can seat them far apart). You can make your own name cards with cardstock paper, either using a decorative font on the computer and printing them or adding your own flair through calligraphy and other artistic touches.

Then make things pretty. And you do not need to spend a fortune on fancy flower arrangements, either! Add some decoration to your tables simply by using seasonal items like small pumpkins and gourds for the fall or lemons, limes, and simple flowers in the spring or summer. Then light up a lot of small candles. Although these are small touches, they add a lot of charm to your table and help to make your guests feel more welcome.

3. Have a little something for everyone at your dinner party. You'll want to plan a menu that is nutritious, interesting, and complains with everyone's taste preferences as much as possible. Sounds like a tall order, right? It is! Without, that is, you take the time to talk to your guests. Do not be afraid to ask what your guests would like to try. And remember to find out in advance if anyone is allergic to a certain type of food or if you have any vegetarians or vegans attending the party. This does not mean you have to prepare several separate meals by any means, but it does mean you'll need to try to have something that each person can enjoy.

4. Choose wines that pair with your menu. Sure, this means you might have to do some research, but it never hurts to make sure all of your bases are covered. Do not know how to choose a good wine? A good rule of thumb for beginners is to remember that red wine goes best with red meat and white wine goes with poultry and fish. This is not the case every time, but most of the time it proves to be true. Of course, wine pairing is much more complex, but this rule will point you in the right direction. At a loss for what kinds of wine to buy? Bring your menu into your local wine shop and ask for help. The experts will know what to do.

5. Plan ahead. Most importantly, do not save all of your prep work until the evening of the dinner party– or risk wanting to pull your hair out even before the guests arrive! Try to make as many things as you can a day or two in advance so that when the night comes, all you have to do is throw it all together and look fabulous doing it.