Does “dinner at eight” really mean “don't even think of arriving before 8:30”? What's the most timeless china pattern for a formal table? domino tackles the burning questions and offers solutions to cut stress and ramp up the festivity.
Dara Caponigro style director, domino magazine; Lili Diallo prop stylist for photo shoots; Steven Gambrel interior and furniture designer; Allegra Hicks textile, homeware and fashion designer; Rita Konig interior designer, author and domino "Girl About Town" blogger; Delphine Krakoff interior designer; David Netto interior and furniture designer; Miles Redd interior decorator; Suzanne Rheinstein interior decorator; Derek Sanders architect; Gil Schafer architect; Tom Scheerer interior designer; Ruthie Sommers interior designer; Antony Todd interior, event and furniture designer
Originally edited by Ruth Altchek and Sara Ruffin Costello new market by Elaina Sullivan
5 steps to a foolproof fete
Or "How I learned to stop worrying and enjoy my own party."
1. have a house cocktail
Save your guests the tough decision and yourself from having to play barkeep.
1½ oz. vodka
1 oz. lime juice
1 part Pimm's
1 part ginger ale
orange & lime
a bartender If you're having more than 12 guests, staff up. Experts agree that an extra hand makes you a more relaxed, gracious host.
2. make your place smell fab
Used judiciously-none near the dinner table-fragrant candles help set the mood.
Nothing guarantees a short, unhappy party like harsh, top-down illumination. If you want your guests to stay, the overheads must go.
Low light instantly renders every room (and everyone) more attractive. For the night, put 25-watts in all table and floor lamps.
Clear-glass holders with unscented white candles are dependably festive, sexy, flattering and inexpensive.
4. edit your playlist
Resist the urge to hit "shuffle," which will leave your guests feeling jangly. Instead, compile a music mix the night before and listen to it all the way through, so you can be sure it has just the right arc.
5. serve just enough food
Easy-to-handle snacks to keep guests going strong at a drinks party.
“Cocktail sausages from the
local butcher with a dish of
Grey Poupon is my standby.”
“Rather than cheese straws,
gougères. These savory puffs
are scrumptious, even after
sitting out for a while.”
“Basic nuts and extra-crispy russet
potato chips work for me.”
“I like to offer skinny, slightly crunchy
asparagus alongside mayo spiked
with Tabasco to turn it pink.”
interior: paul costello. food stylist: jamie kimm
the perfect bar
Stocked with the most choice accoutrements, a drinks station becomes a cause for celebration.
ditch the wheelie cart! The experts
have spoken: A stationary table is the way to go.
"I set up my bar in the middle of a console. A
rolling cart is too low, and the sense that it might
suddenly be wheeled away is worrisome."
"Put a big tray on a console in the living room,
and fill it with your bottles and ice bucket."
"A drinks cart is the single most naff thing
possible, but there's nothing wrong with a
huge display of liquor on a table near the
action. I like to keep several brands of each
type open at once, to give guests a choice."
"I like to have lots of oak trays in all public
rooms, with alcohol, glasses and mixers."
Casual table: justin bernhaut. FormaL table: paul costello
paging emily post
For the host and invitee, practical wisdom to sidestep common faux pas.
before the festivities
how formal for the invites?
For midsize gatherings, many prefer "blanks" cards that say "time," "place," etc.) with specifics handwritten in; for 40+,
go custom. Unanswered invites should be followed up by e-mail. For small bashes, asking by phone or e-mail is fine.
is it all right to cancel?
That last-minute cancellations have become rampant doesn't make them any less rude. Even if it's a big party, RSVP promptly and, unless an emergency arises, show up if you said you would.
good hostess gifts?
Instead of flowers (which force a busy host to find a vase as well as a place for them), try an antique monogrammed hand towel, a box of fancy chocolates, artisanal olive oil or a bottle of Belle de Brillet, a delicious pear liqueur that nobody has and everybody likes.
at the event
is it appropriate to arrive on time for cocktails?
Showing up promptly is all very good for business meetings and job interviews, but at a cocktail party, you don't want to be first—better to get there 10 to 15 minutes after the starting time. At a larger affair, you can be up to 35 minutes late.
should you give guests a house tour?
A third of our panelists gave a resounding "no," but the rest said yes, why not, agreeing that look-sees be kept quick and not include closets, messy rooms or long-winded explanations of renovations (snore!).
For a decent-size soiree (more than 20), it's all about the "French leave," which means sneaking out quietly (and, of course, calling or e-mailing the next day to thank your host), instead of disrupting the swing of things with drawn-out goodbyes.
how to kick them out?
If coming out in PJs brushing your teeth feels too direct, turn off the music to send a strong but polite "good night, everyone" signal.
the morning after
best way to thank your host?
Nobody will turn up her nose at a handwritten note. If you send flowers after a dinner party, your host—likely busy cleaning and recovering from the previous night—will be oh-so-grateful. Otherwise, you can't go wrong with a short call or e-mail saying, "I had a great time, you looked terrific"—or words to that effect.
the top 10
If you're the host, don't...
be late serving the food.
seat spouses or significant others together—boring!
rush through courses. Pause between them, leaving time for second helpings.
serve dessert at the table—get up and have it in the living room to spice things up.
start washing dishes—cleaning up is a guaranteed evening-ender.
If you're a guest, don't...
be more than 25 minutes late, but never be exactly on time or early.
bring something you expect the host to integrate into the meal—he or she has everything planned.
use BlackBerrys or cell phones during the dinner, or at any other time during the evening—ever.
forget to pay attention to both people you are sitting next to.
stay too late or leave too early (especially at a small fete, where one premature departure can spur a mass exodus).