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Treat your guests to a memorable evening with our top tips for the perfect dinner party
What makes a fabulous dinner party? Delicious food, excellent wine, good friends, a great atmosphere – and a relaxed hostess. The secret to the ultimate evening in is choosing a characterful venue and hiring professionals that will create and serve the perfect menu so you are free to entertain your guests and enjoy yourself.
Forget slaving away in the kitchen while your guests sip their aperitif alone. A professional chef will whip up a fabulous meal while you mingle and enjoy yourself. A good chef will suggest a meal that's designed around your guests' preferences and requirements. Some prefer to work offsite, sourcing the ingredients themselves, while others will cook dinner from scratch in your own kitchen, so if you have a strong preference, make sure you ask in advance. Chef in my kitchen offers private chef services from ofrom £55 per person for a three-course dinner party.
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Waiting staff take the hassle out of a dinner party. As well as serving food and wine when you are seated for dinner, they can dress your table, offer drinks and canapés when your guests arrive and clear up and tidy up at the end, so you can relax and enjoy your own party. LOLA have long provided staff for some of London's best events, including the launch event of the V&A's Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition, and can supply waiting, catering and bar staff for private parties too.
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Want to wow your guests with fabulous cocktails and the perfect food and wine pairings? Then hire a mixologist and a sommelier. An experienced mixologist will whip up all your favourite cocktails (and they usually come with their own equipment, so you don't have to worry about shakers and sieves), while a sommelier will not only work alongside the chef to find the perfect wines for your meal, but can also entertain your guests with some interesting nuggets about what they are drinking. Salt & Pepper event staffing provide both, as well as private chefs, butlers and waiting staff.
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A beautifully dressed table immediately creates the right mood for your dinner party. For a table that's always fresh, go with the seasons. For example, says interior decorator supremo Nina Campbell, in the warm months, "I like to keep food simple and light and set my table in a summery way. My favourite on a hot summers day is a beautiful tablecloth by Lisa Corti, who makes the most beautiful printed cloths. I have napkins by her in plain colours every shade which I will use too making sure each guest has a different colour. This makes the table look cheerful and sunny and so inviting!"
"Attention to detail is key," says event stylist Sara Kirby. "The little extras are the things that friends notice and comment on. If you are hosting a small dinner party you can easily collect a few vintage pieces of china and linen to create a really special table setting." Sara likes to use mismatched china to create an atmosphere. "It looks beautiful. You may decide to use white dinner plates whilst highlighting with vintage side plates, starter plates and vintage plates for pudding." Another of her tips is to use vintage tea cups as place holders: "Fill mismatched tea cups in a pretty posy of flowers and place in front of each place with the guests name on a luggage tag attached by ribbon to the handle of the teacup." You can hire vintage crockery, cutlery, serving dishes and flower containers, as well as tablecloths and napkins, through Sara's company, Elsie Florence. Sara also offers styling services.
A floral display adds instant beauty to your party room. However, cautions Nikki Tibbles of Wild at Heart, "make sure you consider practicalities. If your guests will be speaking to each other across a table, you'll need to make sure your arrangements aren't too high and won't obstruct their view or make it impossible to talk." Instead, choose several smaller vases for the table and pair them with a larger display in the room. "That way, you get the visual impact without any inconvenience." Also prefer flowers that boost the atmosphere you are striving for. "If you're opting for soft, candle light, you can emphasise the mood with muted tones in your flowers, such as warm toned peach roses. If you're holding a dinner outside in fading sunlight, you can opt for brighter, garden style flowers in a less structured arrangement to complement your setting. And remember to ask your florist to prepare your arrangements the day before, so the flowers are open and are looking their best for your dinner party." Wild at Heart can provide both the floral decor and a full event styling service for your party.
For a truly unforgettable dinner party, leave your home behind and choose a once-in-a-lifetime venue. You'll want a place that's full of atmosphere and matches your entertaining style and the mood of your partya place like Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill House for an ornate period setting with a touch of gothic whimsy, for example, Kensington Palace's floodlit Orangery for classic, understated elegance or, for a truly Royal experience, either William III's Eating Room or Henry VIII's Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace (pictured). They can all can be booked for private events.
Image: courtesy Historic Royal Palaces