Sometimes bigger is better. Usually that applies to candy stashes and shoe collections and once in awhile… dinner parties. Whether you have 4 guests or 40, there are a certain tricks of the trade that will have you entertaining with ease. Lauren Kelp promise it’s doable and if her pop up dinner party hosted with Ashley Cooper in Nashville is any indication, her tips will have you mastering the art of a large dinner party. See even more captured by Josh Ulmer in the VAULT.
Whether you are hosting a party for 2 of 200, setting the table and creating a space that allows your guests to feel relaxed and comfortable is key. Today we are going to show you how to set the perfect table for a big dinner party. What makes me an expert on this? Well, every few months the fabulous fashion illustrator & graphic designer Ashley Cooper and I pick a new city and host about 40 people – creatives, local influencers, photographers, designers, you name it – who are doing something interesting in their city for a big, fantastic, heartwarming dinner party.
We call these dinner parties Tablemakers (http://laurenkelp.com/tablemakers/) where we are creating an event where everyone can eat great food, drink delicious wine, make new friends, and celebrate community.
Sounds fun, right? It is! Big dinner parties are my favorite & they are much easier than many people think. So call up your favorite caterer (or, heck, try it yourself!), invite 40 of your favorite people over, and let’s have a party!
STEP ONE: Picking the Perfect Place
I am a huge proponent of throwing dinner parties that feel intimate no matter the head count. Backyards, porches, dining rooms that spill into living rooms, front yards – whatever allows your guests to relax, feel comfortable, and stay awhile is the perfect place to throw a party in my book!
Entertaining rules are mostly there as guidelines, in my opinion, so it’s okay to tweak them depending on the situation. Is your living room larger than your dining room? Flip them! Push the sofas against the wall and move the harvest tables in so you can seat more people. Don’t worry, your friends will help you move the sofas back!
Don’t be afraid to play with different seating options. Once you’ve got the place picked out, now it’s time for a little logistics. Determine how many guests you want at your fabulous get-together so you can accurately configure seating. Maybe you have multiple long tables with benches instead of chairs or perhaps you’ve got several open seating options so people and eat and mingle as they see fit.
For our latest gathering, we hosted our guests in a historic home turned flower shop in the heart of East Nashville. We sat 40 new friends at harvest tables encircled around fresh flowers in the shops store front. It was intimate, but it allowed our guests to stay awhile & celebrate that community ambiance we hold dear.
STEP TWO: Setting the Table
Unless you are hosting a formal gathering, there is no need to set a full place setting. I say ditch the bread plates and think family style!
Whenever I host a large dinner party, I try to keep the place settings as minimal as possible so I have a ton of space in the middle of the table. This allows me to place the family style dishes, carafes of water, wine decanters, and bread baskets down the table so guests can serve themselves, grab seconds, and get to know their neighbors by serving them. Plus, it creates a relaxed ambiance & saves time on cleanup (and who doesn’t love that?)
Grab your favorite plates, mix and match your stemware, and have some fun with it!
STEP THREE: It’s All in the Details!
With the amount of large dinner parties we have thrown the best ones are always the gatherings that have a few extra little details. Set your dinner party apart by going a little bit above and showing your guests how thrilled you are they spent the evening at your party.
Set the tone to your dinner by placing the evening’s menu on top of the dinner plate – this makes for a lovely table decor as well. Go for something extra personal and write a fun fact about each guest on a small note card, place a note card in front of each place setting, & use them as ice-breakers. This is especially fun for parties where guests don’t know each other.
Send your guests off with a piece of the decor – like a mini potted plant or a small bouquet of flowers. Each little detail helps impact the dinner as a whole and creates a night your guests will not forget.
Above all else, remember to have fun! This is your night to celebrate with your friends & your community, so relax, have an extra glass of wine, and give yourself a pat on the back – you did it!
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We’ve got another entertaining secret and we’re spilling the beans right here…
Photographer: Josh Ulmer | Stationary : Hester & Cook Design Group, Inc. | Candles: Paddywax | Chef: Dan Forberg | Chef: Tony Galzin | Co-Host & Graphics Designer: Ashley Cooper Desgin | Co-Host & Wine: Kendall-Jackson | Dessert: Tea-rriffic! | Flower Shop: FLWR Shop | Furniture & Table Decor: Jessica Foley | Host & Founder: Constance Higley | Venue & Florals: FLWR Shop