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Choose your party: Dinner party three ways

Basic, fancy or formal: Choose your adventure

It's time to host a dinner party! But what kind is best: basic, fancy or formal? Choose a style that matches your personality, or surprise friends and family with something they would never expect -- and never dream they would enjoy so much.

dinner party guests tapping wine glasses

Dinner parties are perfect venues for pleasure and satisfaction. The host gets to showcase culinary skills, guests delight in being served a meal by friends and everyone enjoys the light banter of dinner conversation. Depending on your desired level of involvement, available time and budget constrictions, first decide if your dinner party will be basic, fancy or formal.

Basic dinner parties

Informal dinner parties are the easiest to plan and execute. All you have to do is make a double batch of chili, roast two chickens instead of one or add a few sides to a main course to feed a few extra mouths. Guests sit at a table with simple settings and serve themselves from passed dishes, or prepare their plates from a simple buffet and relax in chairs around the rec room with their plates on their laps. There are no defined courses except for dessert, which is typically home-baked pie, cake or cobbler. For a super-basic dinner party, make it a potluck and ask guests to bring side dishes while you provide the entree.

Fancy feasts

Special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc. call for fancier dinner parties. Courses are defined and seating is always at a dining room table. Tablecloths and runners are optional, but linen napkins and fine china are a must. Fancy dinner parties conventionally start with cocktails and appetizers in the living room, followed by soup, salad, entrees, sides and dessert at the table. Wines are paired with each course and the host pours for the guests. The entree is the star of the meal and is presented at the table for carving and serving. Popular entrees for fancy dinner parties include beef Wellington, prime rib, whole baked salmon, glazed ham or pork crown roast, paired with roasted new potatoes, creamed spinach, braised fresh asparagus or sauteed mushrooms. Desserts are normally elegant in appearance with rich flavors of chocolate or fruit. Champagne nicely complements dessert courses at fancy dinner parties.

Formal affairs

When you want to pull out all the stops and dazzle your guests with pomp and circumstance, host a formal dinner party. The host does no serving — one or two hired professionals serve each course, remove the guests' used dishes between the courses and pour wine throughout the meal. No food is left on the table, which is adorned only with a centerpiece or candles. Meat or poultry is carved in the kitchen and passed around the table with the sides and then returned to the kitchen. Silverware is neatly arranged at each place setting with special forks, knives and spoons for each course from appetizers through dessert, and glassware typically includes water glasses, red and white wine goblets, and champagne flutes.

Whatever type dinner party you choose, start planning at least a couple of weeks ahead of time so you can enjoy the meal as much as your guests. Frazzled hosts make guests uncomfortable, so your calm demeanor is key to a successful dinner party. If you realize you've committed to too many daunting tasks, don't hesitate to enhance your menu with gourmet food purchased at local eateries and food specialty shops.

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