Gathering with friends, family, and neighbors in our home and around the dinner table is one of those things that makes my heart sing, and we try hard to make a point to do so often. Inviting others into our home (no perfection or insane hosting skills needed!) is the heartbeat of life and of community. No matter how big or small your space is, no matter how elaborate or simple you keep it, no matter how well you know how to cook or no, I believe it’s so important to invite others into our homes and our lives and to share genuine community with one another. I love to host and entertain, and celebrating life is something I am passionate about and always have been! Long ago, I declared myself a celebration enthusiast, and I firmly believe there’s always a reason to celebrate and to have a dinner party.
Something I feel strongly about is not waiting til everything is perfect to invite others into your home or even into your life. Perfection is unattainable, and fear of being imperfect or messy or unfinished can be crippling and hold us back from life-giving relationships. Our home is a place where I desperately want others to feel welcomed, loved, and relaxed — I never want it to feel pretentious or too perfect. Giving myself grace is so important, as is knowing that no one cares how “perfect” anything looks. It’s so much more about sharing our lives and our hearts with one another than striving for looks or perfection!
As a wedding planner and lifelong hostess, though, there are several simple, effective, and totally doable tips and tricks I’ve gathered throughout the years to make any gathering or dinner party a bit more memorable and festive! I firmly believe a bunch or two of $4 flowers from Trader Joe’s or your local farmer’s market can go a very long way, a bottle of champagne chilling in the fridge is always a good idea, and a cheese and charcuterie board makes nearly everyone very happy.
There are a few go-to items that I always try to have stocked and on hand for any last-minute entertaining: a stocked bar cart (and plenty of lemons and limes for cocktails and to enhance your water!), an assortment of fun cheese, charcuterie, crackers, nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit for a delicious and easy cheese board (always, always a hit and a definite favorite!), fresh flowers or greenery (from Trader Joe’s, the farmer’s market, or even picked from your yard!), background music, white and red wine (again, Trader Joe’s is where I always stock up), homemade popcorn, and candles (tall taper candles make anything feel fancy and festive!). We also always have a bottle of champagne chilling in the fridge, just in case a proper toast is called for!
Setting the mood or atmosphere of your dinner party is one of the crucial elements of a successful event. Think about lighting (dimmer lights, taper and votive candles, and market lights) and music (the perfect playlist) so that your dinner party evokes the effect you’re going for. Fresh flowers are also a key element of setting the atmosphere of your party – I always have plenty to scatter around in various vases or bottles, along with herbs from our herb garden. I really like to ensure that all fives senses are catered to in some way and to think through all of the simple, little ways you can enhance the dinner party for your friends! If you’re hosting a dinner party outside, as we love to do often, there are a few critical elements to remember: bug spray and/or citronella candles, extra chilled water set out, and festive market lights overhead.
It took me about five minutes to set the table, which means you can, too! Don’t be intimidated by the need to create the perfect tablescape, as you can easily use what you have on hand, get creative with items from around the house, and mix and match pieces to sharpen your creativity. Since we were having a Springtime Mexican dinner with friends, I wanted to keep the linen tablecloth white and bring in vibrant pops of color with the table settings, flowers, candles, and food to really make them shine. I love collecting glassware and beautiful dishes, and I admittedly have a larger collection of tabletop items than many. It’s a fun creative challenge for me to dress up our dinner table and keep it fresh without having to buy new dishes, glasses, or linen napkins every time. I tend to have a lot of white, light blue, navy, and salmon/coral/peach decor and linens, so most things can be used interchangeably in my trusty color palette! Many of my favorite entertaining and hostessing pieces are from Crate and Barrel, World Market, Anthropologie, Target, or are family heirlooms or vintage finds.
I firmly believe that your dinner party should not be stressful – your guests will feel your stress, nerves, or anxiety, and if you’re not having a wonderful time, then they can tell. Dinner parties should truly be able bringing together people who matter to you to enjoy life together! Don’t stress over the little details, as you’re likely the only one who will notice if something little is amiss or if you forget a detail. Think through the evening in your mind, anticipate what will happen, and try to prepare for the evening from every aspect. By planning ahead, you can cut out a lot of stress and day-of prep time so that you are able to enjoy the process and the dinner party even more. Enlist some help, if you need it, and if something seems too overwhelming or daunting, then forget about it! You really just need fun company + a good bottle of wine, anyway, right?! Above all, though, enjoy it and embrace time with loved ones in a relaxed, comfortable, joyful atmosphere.
It’s not about a picture-perfect dinner, though (goodness no!): it’s about choosing joy; deciding to savor those little moments; inviting your friends (new and old!) and community to gather together; creating memories; finding ways to make an everyday evening and occasion to celebrate. Life itself is a reason to celebrate, and I, for one, plan to embrace that and host as many dinner parties with friends as I possibly can!
photography by our wonderful friends (and dinner party guests!) Ally and Bobby
styling by Stephanie Shaul Events
first written for the McAlister-Leftwich blog