Channel Your Inner Socialite

Throwing a dinner party can cause even the most experienced hostess to have knots in her stomach. Here are some tips to help you create an evening that your friends will remember (in a good way!) for weeks to come.

Casual dinner party

A memorable dinner party has many components: Great food and wine, an interesting guest list, beautiful decor and luscious desserts all contribute to the success of your evening. Keep things under control and running smoothly by creating a plan long before party time.

Let the food be the star

Don't use so much color on your table that the food blends in and the table looks like the inside of a cheap kaleidoscope. Use white or light-colored china and a white tablecloth. The napkins can be white or colored for a splash of contrast.

Make sure that the food is attractive and appealing. Don't use peas next to broccoli or potatoes next to something with a creamy sauce. Think about how the food will look on the plate and keep both the colors and the textures varied.

Use unusual varieties of vegetables. Purple cauliflower, red carrots and blue potatoes are all fun variations on everyday foods. Cook them just until done for the brightest colors. Overcooked vegetables tend to be bland in color as well as flavor.

Keep it simple. Sure, you are a great cook, but your guests don't need to sample every dish in your recipe collection. Choose an appetizer, soup or salad, entree and a killer dessert. Finish with fragrant cups of freshly ground coffee and squares of dark chocolate.

Table decor

Keep the centerpiece simple and in proportion to the rest of the table. The arrangement should be short enough that guests can easily see each other over the top. Keep it small enough that the place settings aren't crowded.

Candles are a great idea – until a guest catches his sleeve on fire. Use candles on side tables and buffets for ambiance and keep them off the table. You don't want your party to be that kind of memorable.

Place cards can be elegant or fun, depending on the type you use. For formal dinners, use engraved cards or print your own classic cards with the help of a word-processing program on your computer. If you are being casual, you are limited only by your imagination. Write guests' names on small pumpkins, use icing to write names on sugar cookies placed at each spot or use gift tags tied around coffee cups with raffia or ribbon.

Little touches

Keep things easy enough that you are relaxed and can enjoy your party. Your attitude will determine the whole feel of the party and how your guests remember it.

Invite a variety of people. Life is interesting because of people's differences. Try to mix things up and invite friends from all walks of life.

Soft music in the background can be a nice touch. Choose relaxing music and keep the volume low enough that it doesn't interfere with your guests' conversation.

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