There’s nothing more relaxing than a dinner party with close friends, but if there are no hard and fast rules in place, things can quickly turn to mayhem.
After a few nights of trial and error (and more than a few ruined dinners) my friends and I have developed a set of rules that keep our dinner parties – and friendships – flowing smoothly.
Rule One: The best laid plan is no seating plan.
Once upon a time there was a rigid formality to dinner party seating. Couples were seated away from each other next to suitable companions so they could expand their social horizons, while eligible ladies and gents were encouraged to sit shoulder to shoulder to see if sparks would fly.
But the best rule of thumb in my dinner party circles now is to let people sit wherever they like. It leads to a more relaxed feel to the evening if the conversation across the table between unknown parties can just flow naturally over a glass of sparkling wine with some slow beats going in the background.
Does it work? Almost always, unless your dinner party guests are wandering around like lost sheep, there is no need to shepherd them.
Rule Two: There’s nothing lucky about pot luck.
The "everyone bring a plate" method of dinner party planning can be a delightful one. It can lead to you trying out some new dishes, and it doesn't put the entire burden of group nourishment onto the host.
Where this can be a dangerous endeavour, however, is when there's no clear system in place of who is bringing what.
A society cannot exist without rules and neither can a dinner party. This kind of anarchy is what leads to a cheese plate with no crackers, or heaven forbid, an evening with a scant offering of desserts. We can't have that.
It's become common practice now in my dinner party circles for each of us to be assigned an item of a specific dinner "tier". Tier one is pre-dinner nibbles, tier two is entree and so on, until you get to dessert and drinks, so every item on the menu is accounted for. I'll bring the Chandon Rosé, if you don't mind (and you really won't).