How to Throw a Dinner Party- Tips, Menu Planning and Personal Touches
I’m so excited to share today’s post with all of you!!! Last month I threw my first “real” dinner party at our house. I’ve had plenty of planned dinners with family and friends over the years. However; this one was different. This one didn’t just have my cooking involved it also came with invitations, menus, place settings, and some tablescaping. I went all out to really make it a true party setting.
I know that party planning isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It can often times be seen as stressful or overwhelming. Somehow I was blessed with a love for details and a high tolerance for stress (at least when it comes to events’ planning that is…). Planning my wedding became a second job for me. Actually, more like my dream job to be exact. I loved the thrill of looking for the perfect details, sifting through the menus, and creating something I knew people would enjoy. I hate to admit that while I was completely in wedded bliss with my husband post wedding, I was having slight post wedding planning depression. I wanted to do it all over again, and yet change nothing. I just wanted to plan something!
A few months back I was out to dinner with my friends and I joked that I needed to start having dinner parties so that my new fine china didn’t go to waste. To my surprise, the girls loved the idea. It took two full months in advance to get a date on our calendars but, we finally locked in a date. That’s when my event planner lightbulb went off. I had two whole months to plan an event! Two months to draft a menu, craft up some table inspiration, and think about how to “WOW” my guests. It was my time to enjoy the planning process again.
As the date approached I worked through test recipes, experimented with table linens, and found some personal details to add to the night. My group of friends was excited and they were the perfect cast to play along. They even suggested that we get dressed up for the occasion. On the night of, we wined and dined in our party dresses (the guys in nice outfits as well) and had an elegant, grown-up dinner party. This will certainly not be my last. I am already thinking of my next group of friends and theme that I can take on.
With all that said I wanted to share some of my tips, “vendors”, recipes and more for your own dinner party planning purposes.
Invitations: Minted.com – I sent the invited couples evites alerting them to save the date!
Did you know that Minted.com does FREE evites? Well, they do right now during their beta creation period (it’s a newer product for their site). I love them because they are dynamic and unique. They don’t just show the invite, they scroll through various screens and make it a fun user experience. By the way, I am not getting paid for this or endorsing the company. I just truly love their product. The digital cards also mimic their gorgeous paper invites.
Menu Planning: The great news is that BTP has already published 3 of the 4 recipes I made that night! For the duck, I will share the site where I loosely based my recipe from. I haven’t written out my own for the creation I made for the blog yet. I do want to mention that this whole menu was made or adapted to be gluten free to accommodate some of our dietary restrictions. If you’re looking for something different, my recommendation is to look at recipes from Ina Garten or Martha Stewart. They are my go-to for some of the classics like filet of beef, rack of lamb, and roasted potatoes.
One other big tip I want to share is to scout out a local butcher. I finally found my “go-to” shop (Nugent’s Prime Meat Market). They were able to special order me my duck legs as that is not something you will typically find in a grocery store. I have also tried some of their other meat products and they are FAR superior to those I’ve gotten at my local meat counter in the supermarket. For special occasions, if you can afford the tiny upcharge, its worth the splurge.
On to the Menu/Recipes…….
Stuffed Mushrooms: http://www.behindtheplates.com/classic-sausage-stuffed-mushrooms/ (I made these gluten free by swapping the breadcrumbs for gluten free ones)
Charcuterie Board– Mine included the following: Prosciutto, soppresetta, marinated mushrooms, mixed olives, marinated cannelloni beans, mini toasts and crackers, sharp cheddar, truffle cheese, rosemary asiago, Roquefort and fig jam. If you have little markers for the cheese, its a nice touch to identify what your guests are nibbling on!
Gnocchi with Truffle Arugula Pesto and Spring Vegetables: www.behindtheplates.com/gnocchi-with-truffle-arugula-pesto-and-spring-vegetables
Duck Confit (I loosely used this recipe from NY Times): https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013002-easy-duck-confit
I also whipped together some homemade raspberry sauce- simmer 1 cup frozen raspberries, 2/3 cup water, and 1/3 cup sugar over medium low heat until it reduces and thickens to a loose jelly. Let fully cool and refrigerate until use.
Paper Menus: Etsy.com – KarlyKDesignShop and Staples.com
I purchased a printable invitation template from an Etsy shop that matched the spring theme I was going for. For just $7.00 I have a reusable menu template I can use for dinners in the future. Once I finalized my menu, I uploaded the print to staples.com at their print center to have copies made! It was easy and cheap for a dinner party.
Tablescaping: Michaels and Homegoods
The word tablescaping has become a valid term when it comes to event planning in the past few years. It’s essentially the art of decorating a table. While I can only dream of some of the tables I have seen on Pinterest (The best place to look for inspirations!); I took my best shot with not spending a ton of money.
I wanted a Spring theme so that I could reuse some of the items again for when I host Easter. I took advantage of a faux flower sale at Michaels and got 40% off some gorgeous peony and rose stems. For $20 I will have Spring inspired flowers I can reuse forever.
As for my candlesticks and vases they are a combination of leftover wedding props and purchases from Michaels and Homegoods. I don’t think I paid more than $7 for any one piece.
The linens were all from Homegoods. I decided that white tablecloths were the most practical to use for the future and then I could play them up with different linen napkins. I bought two sets of varying napkins and swapped them at every other place setting. The chargers also came from Homegoods and I love how they really enhance the elegance of each place setting.
The escort cards were a Michael’s purchase and the little stands they came with are just an adorable touch. I need to work on my writing skills however, I did what I could to make the handwriting pretty with cursive and a gold marker!
All of the china (Waterford) and glassesware (William Sonoma) were part of our wedding registry and I now have 16 settings to play around with for future parties. However; if you don’t have china, That’s entirely ok. Play mix and match with your everyday tableware. Also, using different colored napkins and/or chargers under the plates will help to create the fancy look you want.
Lastly, I put a little candy favor at each place setting to tie in more blue hues to the tablescape and really welcome each guest to the table.
I decided to do a cordials bar to pair with dessert. It is a Raho Family tradition to have a nip of cordial during special events with dessert. When I shared this idea to incorporate the custom with my in-laws they graciously offered to share some of their cordials to the cause! We had everything from Baileys, to Sambuca, to Brandy, to Drambue. During our honeymoon, My husband and I had bought special cordial glasses at an antique stand in France so it was the first time we got to both use and share them with people. We all had a great time testing the liquors out and pairing with our dark chocolate tart bites.
Don’t forget to set the mood with music too. We love the Frank Sinatra Pandora station but, pick what’s right for your theme and guests.
This party was exactly what I needed to get me over my wedding planning slump. I realized that I can always plan a little party. Easter is up next at our house and my wheels are already spinning on the menu! I wish you all happy planning should you decide to take on a party of your own. Don’t stress, make it personal, have fun with the planning, and just focus on good food and good company!
…all for the love of the dish