LAUREN'S ENTERTAINING TIPS
It's no secret I love to entertain. As I've gotten older, the type of social setting I enjoy most has shifted. With two young kids and a demanding job, I try and engineer my social life so that I'm only in situations that I enjoy the most - intimate dinners at home are at the top of that list. I see a dinner party as an opportunity to curate - the guest list, the food, the table settings, and the flowers all work together to set the mood. Keep reading for some tips that I return to time and time again.
While an impromptu dinner party can be exciting (there is a time and a place for that), I thrive when I have time to plan. I like to hash out the details at least a month in advance (sometimes longer), starting with the guest list. This is the first thing I decide because it sets the mood for the rest of the party. For example, I would plan a very different night for a dinner party for two with colleagues I met through work than a larger party with friends and family I have known forever. I love bringing people together who might not get the chance to meet otherwise. When curating a guest list, I think about shared interests, similar life circumstances, and the group's sense of humor.
I like to take cues from the season first when planning a menu. A meal might be heavy and hearty in the winter and, in the summer, much lighter. I also like experimenting with different menu themes if appropriate for the guest list. For example, if I know I am having a group of adventurous eaters, I might plan a southeast Asian meal with a variety of dishes to try, served family style. If it's a group of people I don't know as well, or I know to be more sensitive eaters, I will stick to a more straightforward seasonal menu. And if kids are invited, I always ensure something for them (our mummy hot dogs and spider PBJ sandwiches for Halloween were a huge hit).
SETTING THE SCENE
When preparing for a dinner party, I think about the entire environment: The lighting, the smells, the locations where people will gather in the house, the tablescape - I like it all to work together, and it is a little different each time. I am big on lighting, so I've figured out exactly which lights I like to be on and off ahead of time and how dim I like each set to be - if you are lucky enough to have a system like Lutron, I suggest pre-programming a dinner party scene, so you don't have to think about it. If you can't pre-program, play around and write down the preferences to quickly get everything right when the time comes. I prefer a dim setting, most of the overheads turned off with light coming from chandeliers, and of course candlelight (unless the dinner party includes a lot of children - then I opt for a little brighter and nix the candlelight). I love a scent, in addition to the food cooking, so I try to light a scented candle (or two) earlier in the day. Right now I am, of course, opting for our Mood Candle with the perfect fall scent.
The table setting is my favorite part. It is where I get to stretch my creativity. I have never set the same table twice. I always have a plan for the table at least a day or two before. If I am having a party on Friday evening, I will usually set the table Thursday night after I put the kids to bed. I love a table linen; it makes the dining room feel special. Most of mine are Italian linen and come from BROYT. I also love a super interesting cheeky table linen like the ones made by Oeuvres Sensibles.
"I ALSO LOVE COLLECTING DINNER SETS, SO I HAVE A COUPLE OF OPTIONS TO CHOOSE FROM. I USUALLY MIX AND MATCH, SELECTING PLATES AND BOWLS FROM DIFFERENT SETS AND OFTEN INCORPORATING SOMETHING VINTAGE. I ALWAYS OPT FOR A NAPKIN RING BECAUSE IT FEELS LIKE JEWELRY FOR THE TABLE"
I always play around with my tablescape, I collect candleholders, and this is my favorite time to use them. I vary heights and sizes but always ensure that the guests can easily see each other across the table. I also keep the menu in mind, leaving space if there is a family-style portion of the meal. If I have the time, I like to head to the floral market and choose a couple of seasonal varieties to enhance the tablescape. I generally go more minimal with flowers on the table because I find it stressful if the table is too busy. Lately, I've been loving incorporating seasonal fruits and produce into the tablescape; it feels fresh and unexpected (and we can eat them the next day). If I want a larger floral moment, I will place it somewhere else in the room, on the buffet, kitchen island, or coffee table (or sometimes all of the above).
I also like to mix up my settings, again keeping in mind the menu and what types of plates, bowls, and cutlery will be necessary for the meal. I also love collecting dinner sets, so I have a couple of options to choose from. I usually mix and match, selecting plates and bowls from different sets and often incorporating something vintage. I always opt for a napkin ring because it feels like jewelry for the table. The Janie Kruse Garnett for LES Collection Paper Fan Napkin Rings are a go-to again and again.
Each dinner party is different, but I hope that these tips can help you get inspired! Ultimately a dinner party should reflect your home, family, and the guests you have decided to gather.