Plan a beautiful dinner party for your friends with these helpful tips.

How to plan the perfect dinner party

Dinner parties evoke a feeling of nostalgia, but pulling them off demands a certain amount of finesse. There's a lot to consider when you're welcoming friends into your home for such a gathering: Your guest list, invitations, menu, cocktail options and table decor are all a reflection of you as a host. There is also a certain level of formality and etiquette associated with dinner parties, which can feel intimidating in a world of Facebook invitations and e-cards. Keep these tips in mind as you go about planning your dinner party:

Send unique invitations
Are you celebrating your birthday with a formal affair, or just having some friends over for a casual dinner? Whether you're sending birthday invites or elegant formal cards, don't leave your guests wondering: Your invitations should indicate the level of formality of your event.

You should also be explicit about informing your guests that dinner will be served at your party. Pear Tree Greetings' Dinner Party Invitations make this perfectly clear by showcasing elegant utensils alongside your party specifics. Finish off your invites by using the matching address labels on your envelopes!

Follow the proper dinner order
Dinner parties are generally separated into three segments: cocktail hour, meal time and after-dinner coffee.

Cocktails
When your guests arrive, they should be shown into a living room, where they'll be treated to cocktails and conversation. It is recommended to have at least three beverage types: wine, liquor/mixers, and nonalcoholic choices like soda and seltzer water.

Give your guests a good 30 minutes to an hour to socialize and enjoy a few drinks. The cocktail hour should begin at the time you indicated that the party would start – dinner comes later.

Dinner
When it is time for dinner to be served, usher your guests into the dining room. If your dinner party is formal, it's traditional to serve the person seated at the host's right-hand side first, and then continue around the table counter clockwise. Hosts of more casual affairs can generally get away with placing dishes on the center of the table and allowing guests to serve themselves.

Hosting tip: To ensure your guests are happy and comfortable, keep their thirsts quenched. Ensure that every place setting includes a glass of water, and make it a point to refill wine glasses throughout the meal.

Coffee
After all the plates have been cleared from the table (note: it's considered impolite to stack plates and haul them all away at once), it's time for coffee hour. You can either serve your guests coffee at their places, or move back into a living room area. It's also a good idea to offer tea for guests whose palates don't appreciate coffee.

After your guests have finished their last beverage and said their goodbyes, be a courteous host by wishing them well as they head out the door. Some hosts even opt to give small favors to their guests to serve as a reminder of the evening.

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