We Ask 3 Experts How To Plan The Perfect Dinner Party

From standout dishes that are simple to prepare to unique ways to dress the table and Spotify playlists to set the mood, we asked three dinner party experts for the secret ingredients to hosting a night to remember.

The perfect dinner party should be simple – good food, flowing drinks, interesting conversation and, of course, friends. But planning and hosting one can be stressful. If you love to host but feel the pressure, or the thought of tablescaping to Pinterest-worthy proportions fills you with dread, we’ve tracked down some of the best in the business to help.

From the Instagram sensation whose curated tables found fame during lockdown to the interiors experts who specialise in beautiful dinnerware, and the illustrator whose party stationery has been used by the likes of Vogue, Aerin and Mrs Alice, here’s how to do dinner parties as the most effortless hostess out there.

Cloe Bueso and Sophie Lamotte of The Sette

If you love to host, you need to check out The Sette. The online destination, founded by friends Cloe Bueso and Sophie Lamotte, stocks beautiful and unique pieces, from the best table linens to designer glassware and cool candles.

Cloe Bueso and Sophie Elliott

What are your golden rules when it comes to tablescaping?

To have fun and not to feel that it has to be totally perfect. We like to add personal touches throughout the table, whether it’s our unique cutlery rests, our porcelain croissants with butter inside or fresh flowers from the garden. 

It’s also fun to have a “talking” point on the table to get the conversation going. Aside from that, less is sometimes more and a great tablecloth and napkin set combined with bud vases and candles usually does the trick.

How can you impress your guests without causing yourself too much work or stress?

Sharing dishes always works really well, it brings everyone together more and adds a more relaxed vibe, which we like. Three-course meals feel a bit formal to us, so it’s nice to have a sharing starter or a main with sharing sides followed by dessert. Nothing beats great ice cream. 

What are your go-to brands for dressing the table?

We love Rhea Kalo for vases, which we sell on our website, La Double J have the most beautiful glassware and Misela Istanbul have recently launched these amazing monogram coasters, candles and more, and finally Clementina Sketchbook for the prettiest tabletop stationery.

Any tips for hosting a party outdoors?

Good music, a great seasonal drink in a large jug for people to help themselves to, sharing plates and very relaxed seating (no fixed seating plan).

Clementina Zegna , Ilustrator and Founder of Clementina Sketchbook

Illustrator and water colourist, Clementina has created bespoke stationery for the likes of Vogue, Racil, Pomellato, Aerin and The Handbook favourite, Mrs Alice. Here, she tells us how using personalised invitation, place settings and menus can add magic to your own event.

How do you make an invite unique?

Change it up with one or two extra elements that have nothing to do with the event you’re throwing.  Think zodiac signs, your pet, your house, but also more humorous.. an inside joke, your nickname. All of these details will make an invite unique. That is why all of my collection designs are not only available as ready-to-write products, but can also be tweaked with personalisations. We call it Semi-Bespoke.

You can also elevate your invites by having them handwritten with a fun in-theme calligraphy or the text engraved if possible. Edging in a contrasting colour can also look very cool.

How do you make it reflect the event you want to host?

I find that often the cards reflect an event, as much as the event sometimes reflects the cards. When organising, you might find that the event stationery is one of the first things you decide on – a save the date or invitation – so it is only natural that the event and the paper suite actually evolve hand-in-hand. 

The best way to start is to stick to the aesthetic elements you are sure of and start from those. Brainstorming from there will easily give ideas on how to design both your cards and your event. 

Clementina Zegna

What’s your advice on making place settings fun and personal and menus look good?

This is where you can have fun. I make sure place-settings are hand-written with a colour that complements or contrasts their designs, not just in black or dark blue. For more informal occasions, using a coloured marker does wonders. If you choose to write them yourself, do try to centre the names nicely – consider tracing the name with a light pencil first to help you achieve that.

When it comes to menus, if yours is not a formal event, break all rules of how menus are normally presented. For example, for one event, I designed what I called a silent menu: I painted all these glamorous hands holding the foods that will actually be served at the table. In another, I drew a fun mini moke with lots of colourful strings attached at the back of it, each tied to a menu item. 

So, in brief: for formal occasions stick to the theme of the whole stationery, for more casual events: have fun.

Kirthanaa Naidu, Food Stylist & Table Settings Expert

Kirthanaa starting posting pictures of her beautifully set dining tables during lockdown, and what started as a hobby and a way to spend her time being furloughed, has grown into a successful side hustle. She now hosts supper clubs and works as a food stylist in addition to her day job working for charity Amnesty International. Here, she talks us through how she makes her table tops look Insta-worthy.

Where do you start when dreaming up a new table setting?

Usually, the first thing I think about is a linen table cloth. It sets the tone of the table and allows me to build everything from there.  

You can also take inspiration from just one thing on the table and work from there. For example, I get a flower delivery of British stems once every two weeks, and sometimes I’m just inspired by how beautiful they are. I’ll look at what colours are in there and create the table around that.  

Do you follow any golden rules when it comes to styling the table?

It’s important not to get too wrapped up in everything being too matchy-matchy. It doesn’t always look better and definitely causes more stress. Often, part of the fun is playing around with your tablescape and seeing what works organically. 

Also, keep it practical. Don’t go overboard with dozens or dishes or food, candles everywhere or a table covered in flowers. As impressive as it may look, when your guests sit down you want it to be easy. You want your guests to be able to talk to one another and not have to be moving things around all the time to accommodate space. Bud vases in different heights are great for this, rather than one big vase. If you’re sat across from someone you don’t want to be talking over the flowers so keep it simple and low.

What are your tips for serving delicious food that looks great but without the fuss?

Antipasti boards are a great way of looking like you’ve put in a lot of effort but actually a lot of it can be bought and thrown together – anchovies with olive oil, crunchy veg like chicory or whatever is currently in season with some lovely aioli dip, bread and great butter. Burrata is also a great choice with some good quality cold cuts. If you’re new to dinner parties, it’s a good place to start and you don’t need to be a confident cook to bring something great to the table. 

What are your secrets to setting the mood at a dinner party?

It’s really nice to have a space for welcome drinks when people arrive. All you need is a small table with a candle, some fresh flowers and some nibbles – olives, crisps, simple stuff. I will also serve a welcome drink – I love to do a margarita or an Aperol spritz. 

Music is also really important. I’d recommend creating a dinner party playlist on Spotify that you can go back to time and time again. I start with a bit of jazz, soul, funk – Spanish guitar music also works well for a dinner party – and then as the night comes to an end, I like to play what I call “wrapping up music” – think Norah Jones style. 

What can you do to make your dinner party one to remember? 

I love to offer my guests a digestivo at the end of the night. I’ve curated a bar space with drinks that I’ve brought back from holidays and trips away. So, I went to Majorca and brought back vermouth, Mexico, I brought back mezcal. I’ve also collected the digestivo glasses from shops and antique markets all over the world. Everything has a story, everyone can choose what they want and everyone has a different glass. It’s just a really nice way to end the dinner. 

Follow Kirthanaa on Instagram @kirthanaa

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