1. Begin the evening with a special signature cocktail, and place the drinks and napkins right where you want everyone to start. When the girls walk in, I like to have glasses of champagne waiting for them in the living room. This gives an immediate visual cue of where guests should congregate to chat while I’m finishing up dinner in the kitchen. Because my kitchen opens up to both the dining room and living room, I am still able to participate in the conversation. Consider the flow of your own house and use that as a guide to decide where you want any pre-dinner cocktails and conversation to occur.
2. Be creative with the table décor. A formal dinner does not have to look stuffy and dated. When I set the table for this dinner party, I wanted to have a fresh, modern tablescape to balance the formality of the china and crystal. In lieu of a flower arrangement and tall candlesticks, I created individual succulent centerpieces that I clustered along the center of the table. I placed small, simple candles around the succulents to give off a glow without competing visually with the succulents or the pattern of the china.
3. Plan your menu carefully, taking into consideration the prep time for each dish. I try to only have one dish that needs to be prepared immediately before the party. In this case, it was the creamed spinach and mushrooms. I did everything I could ahead of time – diced onions the night before, sautéed mushrooms and onions in butter in advance – and by the time guests arrived all I had to do was heat the mushrooms back up, toss in the pre-washed spinach and cream, and stir in a little parmesan cheese. The salads were plated in advance, the coffee for the dessert was brewed just before guests arrived, and the main dish was a make-ahead freezer recipe that I just had to defrost and heat up. How easy is that?