Tablescapes - Tips & Tricks
Originally I intended to write another blog about tablescapes, or table settings to be more precise. But I think I will change it a little bit and add some tips on how to throw a successful dinner party - without being stressed, with a cosy atmosphere and great discussions! While none of this can assure a success a 100%, it can probably help foster the atmosphere for a successful dinner party.
How to Throw a Stress Free Dinner Party
Yes, that exists!
If you’re reading this in 2025 - remember that weird, horrible, tough year of 2020? Dinner parties are a distant dream, and we’re all making our homes into our castles - we can’t go anywhere. So this guide is more for the future. Or, if you’re reading this when our collective slow burning nightmare is over, a guide for right now. After this horrible, no good year, we’re set for another round of the roaring 20s after all!
My favorite advice comes from my mother, herself an amazing hostess who has thrown some of the most epic dinners I have ever been at. She lives by the motto
“Be your own best guest. Enjoy yourself! The guests are here, no reason to stress about details anymore. Go with the flow of the evening - you’ll love it.”
Scroll down for some more tips I’ve accumulated over the years.
A beautiful tablecloth and cloth napkins add to the atmosphere of your dinner party
1) Atmosphere - or how to set the mood for the evening
Setting the atmosphere for an evening isn’t always in your hands. Yet, there are a few things, organizational and decor wise, that can help your dinner party become cosy and just as desired.
- start the evening with an ‘Apéro’. That’s what the French (and Belgians and Swiss) love to do before dinner: have nibbles, some drinks and a sit down before sitting down at the dinner table.
- set the mood with lights. I have been to many dinners where I quietly thought that one ceiling light less and one indirect light more would have done the trick. If in doubt, use candles! Candles as far as the eye can see. Ideally candles of different heights, placed throughout the space you’re having dinner in. If you have enough, you can forgo the artificial light completely. There is nothing more soothing and beautifying than candle light, and your guests will feel bathed in golden light.
- restrict space at the table. This might sound odd - but the closer and tighter you’re sitting at a table, the more intimate the setting feels. Add a beautiful tablecloth to make the space look elegant and cosy. Plus, light reflects softer in fabric, adding to that glow you want to have.
2) Dinner Party Stress - or how to avoid it
My incurable perfectionism makes this a hard one but I think I’ve gotten the hang of it (more or less). Here are my tips:
- don’t serve a starter. Use the beloved Apéro mentioned above to fend off the initial hunger your guests might have. Don’t serve complicated stuff. I usually make a guacamole , cut some dried salami and add some cherry tomatoes. Or hummus (store bought because let’s not exaggerate).
- have your table setting prepared for all courses. Different wines for different meals? Put all glasses on the table. Serving dessert? Set the silverware on the table (ideally fork and spoon, above the plate) and prepare the plates on a side table.
- make a one pot dinner. They’re easy to make and ready when you are. And you don’t have to spend your time in the kitchen, messing with the different cooking times of the different vegetables, meats, etc. I usually prepare everything and put it in the oven when the first guests have arrived. Better to have people wait for their dinner a bit than have an overcooked, cold dinner because of late guests!
- accept help! Ask you guests to light candles, help carry food, etc.
Candles and indirect light create a beautiful atmosphere
3) Discussions - or how to take your dinner party from ‘meh’ to ‘yeah’
Ok, I know this isn’t the easiest thing to do. But there are actually a couple of things that can foster the type of discussions that are fun at a dinner party*:
- create a seating plan and don’t put couples next to each other. If your guests hardly know each other (or not at all) think about commonalities to to pair them up (a table is ideally an even number but it doesn’t matter that much). Or pair the outgoing person with the shy (the goal is to get the shy person to relax). Don’t forget the opposite, particularly if you use a modern rectangular table that isn’t so wide.
- play music. I’ve found that music can fill the awkward silence gaps that always happen at some point. It doesn’t really matter what type of music except that I would personally refrain from the hardcore stuff like metal or techno - but then tastes vary!
- assume your role of host: pose questions, introduce people and add some background to them, as in “This is Sophie, she likes sustainability and has three kids”. Ask questions to the table to start the flow of conversation.
*What do I consider a fun discussion? I think that is very personal, and also depends a lot on the your culture. We love a good political discussion in Germany and France. Britain and the US are great storytellers and witty anecdotes are a must. There is no right or wrong.
What are your go-tos for a successful dinner party? Tell me in the comments below!