One of the most important considerations in planning a dinner party is putting together a list of those who will attend. This is not a haphazard exercise. It is one that merits a lot of thought and consideration; for in its outcome lies the success or failure of a memorable evening.
As a host or hostess, it is your responsibility to provide a beautiful setting where good food, good drinks and excellent service are enjoyed by all. The rest and most important part of the evening is a shared responsibility between the host or hostess and the guests. You can have the best chef in the world and serve the most delightful Bordeaux from your cellar but if a good time is not had by all, there goes a very expensive dinner party .
Whether your dinner party consist of eight people or twenty the same rules apply, although in the case of a small group, the guest list is crucial.
I believe that a good mix is the secret to a fun evening. But be careful how you mix. Whether the different personalities come from age, culture or social standing, make sure a common thread runs through the mix, such as a shared interest or hobby. This levels the playing field and makes everyone more at ease with each other and facilitates breaking the ice amongst strangers.
On the other hand, at a dinner party of equals where you have to mix an array of people you simply owe a social invitation to, a balance of personalities is crucial. When it comes to guests, I have learned, there are the givers and the takers.
The givers come in and immediately take to their responsibilities...being good guests. They have been trained from birth on how to behave in social circumstances. Most of them are simply born with this gene. Others have been trained at home, something extremely rare and lacking these days. They are usually alpha males or females. They go out of their way to meet and shake everyone's hand and make sure everyone is having a good time. If they see someone with an empty drink, they offer to fill it. If the hostess is hassled, they offer to help at the bar or in the kitchen. If someone is standing alone in a corner, they rush over to talk to them. If there is a momentary lull in the conversation, they feel obligated to fill it, even if they put their foot in their mouth. They are a pleasure to have around and are always sought out by hostesses in the know.
Then there are the takers. They are awfully nice people too, but they are there to be fed and entertained. They stand with their drinks in a corner like a potted plant and never move an inch until dinner time. They speak only when engaged in conversation by others or if no one is around, by their partner, thus taking another guest out of the loop. They are usually there because their spouse or date is a giver or a good friend of the host or hostess. These people are labeled as shy, although in my book they are really socially inept. All of us are shy when we first walk into a room full of strangers. Some of us just know how to take a deep breath and dive in. Hopefully you won't have more than one of these guests at your dinner party or the evening will be an enormous flop.
In a dinner party for eight, where most of the guests will be in close proximity most of the night, make sure you have at least one fun and outgoing couple to help keep the party and the conversation going. If you are having a new couple who are strangers to the rest of the guests, make sure they at least know one other person or have something in common with the group. Take the time to introduce them around and leave them with someone you know will take care of them for the first half hour or so. When it comes to table settings, this is the only time I will seat a couple in the same table and across from each other. It gives them that extra oomph and security to be more social in a group of strangers.
I have a great friend who is a master in the art of mixing guests. He is the product of a prominent Cuban family and an American education, has lived in New York City and presently shuttles between an apartment in Paris and South Beach, was and is a prominent antiquaire, travels all over Europe with the Georgian Group and has friends from all over the world. His parties are a pleasure to attend. Your dinner partner may be the head of Armani Europe or a prominent Spanish author or playwright...he may even be an old friend from college or childhood; but, I guarantee, he won't be boring. His dinner parties are an extension of a fantastic life and of a giving and delightful personality. I have learned much from this friend when it comes to the art of the mix.
This last anecdote doesn't mean that you can only have a successful dinner party if you invite prominent guests. It is simply to illustrate that a wide array of nationalities and personalities can be brought together under one roof and at the same table and a wonderful evening will be had by all.
In my previous life as a hostess, both at home and in the corporate world, I have had to entertain friends and clients from all over the world in a wide array of circumstances. These are some of the things I have learned, sometimes the hard way, and I hope they will be of use to you when you plan your guest list for a future dinner party.
|The Crashers...Wouldn't you love to have them at your next dinner party?|
Tell me, is there a particular way in which you put together your guest list?
All images Google/Life Magazine
Images #2 - 6 Dinner Party at the Cuban Embassy, Washington DC 1947
Image # 1 Valentina the fashion designer
Image #3 Marjory Merriweather Post Davis, wife of Ambassador Davis