A variety of guests creates an exciting dynamic and the possibility for interesting dinner conversation. For instance, if you invite friends who all share similar professions, the conversation will naturally skew towards common career-related topics. However, if you invite eight guests with careers in unrelated fields, the conversation will naturally flow to topics that enable everyone to get to know one another.
While bringing an eclectic variety of friends together can lead to stimulating conversation, you don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable or offended by the conversation. For instance, inviting your husband's friend who is fresh from a hunting trip and your vegan PETA activist friend from yoga class to the same dinner might lead to a heated animal rights argument.
Dinner conversation is best when seating is close enough for all guests to easily hear one another without shouting across the table. Try to seat guests as close together as is comfortably possible (allow reasonable elbow room.) Soften the lighting to mimic that of a favorite restaurant. If you don't have a dimmer, consider switching out bulbs to a lower wattage, as soft light will be more flattering for you and your guests alike.
Do not allow guests to seat themselves. This is your dinner party, so use place cards and arrange the seating to create your desired dynamic. A great way to mix things up is by splitting up couples (they're with each other enough already, right?) Another strategy is to seat each person with someone they've already met on one side and a stranger on the other side. This easily integrates all friends, new and old.
Be sure to serve a minimum of three courses (hors d'oeuvres, entrée and dessert). Plan the menu so that all preparations can be complete before your guests arrive (save for bits warming in the oven, etc.) Make sure to have a variety of drinks, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic, on hand. Allow ample time between courses for conversation and continued cocktails. Dinner shouldn't be at all rushed; guests should be prepared for an evening of delectable drinks, fantastic food and engaging conversation.
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