Learn the basics of how to prepare for a formal dinner party. Knowing a few things beforehand and planning ahead will ensure a relaxing, entertaining evening for everyone.
- Plan ahead. A formal dinner party shouldn't be a last minute decision. Several weeks ahead of time, prepare a guest list. Choose guests who you think will enjoy each other's company, but try to vary the personalities. If there will be guests who don't know one another, sure sure and invite a few in the same situation. It's uncomfortable to feel like the odd man out. Issue invitations well in advance, especially during the holidays when most people have hectic schedules. Ask for RSVP's so you know who is planning to attend and who is not.
- Plan your meal. Decide what you'd like to serve for your formal dinner party and see how it works with your budget. A few well prepared dishes is better than serving several dishes made of inferior ingredients. Go with what's in season and use recipes you've had success with in the past. Of course, if you plan to use a caterer, research who is available in your area and get references. Find out about trying samples of the caterer's fare so you have an idea of the quality.
- Prepare the setting for your formal dinner party. If the party is being held at your home, at least clean the party area, the kitchen, and your bathrooms thoroughly–you never know where people may drift to, but the kitchen and bathrooms are a sure bet, so make them sparkle! Test the lighting in the dining area. Make sure that the lighting is adequate for mingling and comfortable eating. Candles on the table look nice, but you will surely need extra lighting to supplement. If you plan on using a dining table centerpiece, keep it low enough to allow people to see each other across the table. This is the time to use your best china and linens, but if you have none, or the thought of using your family heirlooms makes you nervous, inexpensive linens and tableware can be purchase or even rented if that is economically sensible for you.
- Prepare some items in advance, if possible. If you're making the bulk of the meal, assemble and prepare as much as you can one to two days before the formal dinner party to save you time on the big night. Chop vegetables and do as much as you can ahead of time, but without sacrificing quality, of course. Some foods lend themselves to being made in advance more than others. Use place cards so you have control of where people sit and who sits next to whom. Be conscious of personalities, if possible, and seat people accordingly.
With a solid plan of action and a bit of work ahead of time, a formal dinner party shouldn't be the cause of too much stress and will hopefully result in a great event for all involved.