A great dinner party is a difficult thing to define. Firstly, you need to decide where on the stress spectrum you wish to settle; the occasion likely dictating the amount of effort you’re going to put in. If it’s on the more fancy, special-occasion side of things, then every element needs to be considered in detail; for such a dinner party to go swimmingly, it’s important to remember that it’s not only about the food. Indeed, we think the ingredient basket should also contain fine wine, pinpoint timing, good grace, a certain je ne sais quoi, and most importantly, generosity. But even more than all of that, the key component is foresight. And with that in mind, here are 4 IDEAL tips on how to plan a fancy dinner party.

PREP WHAT YOU CAN IN ADVANCE

The key to hosting a fancy dinner party is taking the time to be there, in the room, entertaining and charming your guests. Because ‘fancy’ isn’t simply about chucking as much money as you can muster at an event. Nope, events which can truly be defined as special run like clockwork, and fancy relies on something which can’t be touched or bought; and that is down to the charm of the host. Being stuck in the kitchen, flapping over unrisen souffles and burnt pastry is not a classy look (we know from sad experience).

Preparation, then, is key when it comes to hosting, so it’s a good idea to get your cooking area completely organised, and any food which can be prepared in advance doing so. If you’ve come to this article with the festive season in mind, then we can’t stress enough how vital it is to get your kitchen Christmas ready for things to run smoothly. Then you will have free hands and a free mind to sprinkle that extra special bit of stardust on your event.

CHOOSE YOUR MENU WISELY 

Though only a small portion of your evening (and the guests’ focus) will be taken up by the food itself, choosing what to serve will help set the tone of the whole event. You can do plenty with the typical starter, main, and dessert combo, with a few choice nibbles beforehand to sustain your guests while they socialise before the meal. But they key here is to source carefully, and inject a little extra pizzazz with some choice ingredients taken from the more extravagant side of the shopping aisle. 

The trick, we think, is to pick one main, premium ingredient – say a côte de boeuf – and build everything else around it with complementary sides and flavours. It’s the classiest way of doing things; allowing a carefully sourced main event to speak for itself with supporting cast chosen thoughtfully and effortlessly. In the right hands, the rest writes itself. 

Another way to raise the tone is through your canapes; oysters rather than cocktail sausages, caviar on your blinis as opposed to some Lidl smoked salmon; that kinda thing.

GET THE DRINKS RIGHT

A fantastic way to get the dinner party off on the right foot is to provide a delicious pre-dinner drink. Nothing says a warm welcome like being greeted with an expertly mixed cocktail, but a nice premium lager or ale is a good alternative for those that are not so cocktail-inclined. It’s the thought that counts, after all.

The specific selection of drinks you choose will largely depend on what you’re cooking; no one is going to admire your culinary expertise if you pair that aforementioned rib of beef with a Chardonnay, for instance, so consider wine pairing carefully. And remember, it’s also a good idea to provide some non-alcoholic alternatives for anyone who may be driving, pregnant, religiously opposed, a recovering alcoholic, or may simply not be feeling like drinking. Classy, more than anything, is catering to everyone’s needs.

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE FOOD

It’s easy to spend so much time thinking about the food and drink that you can overlook the little things that work together to create atmosphere and help lubricate the party’s cogs. Detail is everything; lighting, crockery, music…it all counts, we think. That eye for the small touches can be the difference between good and great, between coarse and classy. And you want to be the latter, don’t you?

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Rachel is the beauty and fashion director at IDEAL. She loves trying new products and is an avid fan of London's fashion, from the high end to the high street.