Occasionally, celebrations come along in our lives when we want to elevate a shared meal with special friends and family to something extraordinary. You may or may not have one of those moments you’re planning for today, but Miss Party wants to plant a few seeds to remember when it comes to the day you do.
In the dining tables pictured, the first is set for 30 guests on a terrace, the second is set for 15 and the third dining table is set for 13 guests. Each location is unique and different, but some points are similar:
1) Whenever possible and practical, dine outdoors – ‘al fresco’, ‘en plein aire’, ‘al aire libre’, call it what you will. There is just something inately unique about dining outdoors. When you are searching for the right venue to hold the dinner, be open-minded. Look for a city rooftop with a great view of the skyline; a terrace with a view of the countryside; a beautiful country garden; a beachside deck, or a meadow under an ancient tree. Don’t just look for a formal space because you want a formal dinner. In fact, an otherwise casual location (as you see in the pics above of the Spanish graveled terrace) can be the perfect place. Your dining table will take care of making it feel elegant. (Just be sure the location has electricity, restrooms nearby and can be accessed by your caterer for proper food service.) Whatever venue you choose, do be sure there is an indoor backup plan in case of inclement weather.
2) Bring all the good stuff to the table! Rent elegant candelabras, use the good china, silver, crystal, and, of course, cloth linens. Especially if you can arrange to dine outdoors, the mix of indoor elegance brought outside is intangibly chic. Your challenge is to create a beautiful, formal dining room with no walls. The juxtaposition of a formally dressed dining table in a casual location will intrigue your guests, like bringing out the wine glasses and lobster for a tailgate party.
3) Serve everyone at ONE long, continuous table, end of story. Before you sign a contract for the space, be sure this can be done. It is very, very important to have everyone feel they are on an even playing field with the guest of honor; that everyone is important enough to be at the head table. The smaller your group, the more important it is. You’ll probably get push back from the special events personnel if they automatically go to rounds when the count goes above a certain number, but push back. It can most likely be worked out. (In the pics above, the first dining table you see is set for 30 people which had never been done before at this location, for this many people. The client was adamant on the point and there was a great deal of ‘discussion’. As you can see, it works beautifully.) Also, understand your seating options if you must be indoors, your seating arrangement may have to change.
4) Send paper invitations and print menu cards to place at each place setting. The menu cards are a small detail, but the formality helps to elevate your meal to another level and gives guests a takeaway remembrance of the evening. Use place cards if there is any issue on guest placement.
5) Candlelight and lanterns! Have as many as you can beg, borrow or purchase. Limit light fixtures as much as practical. Strands of twinkling, white lights in greenery and string lanterns can help set the parameters of the party space. Hang tea lights in overhanging branches or on overhead beams of a pergola or overhang. The darkness will be pushed away and warmed by the glow of the candlelight and white lights. The mingling and dining spaces will feel as if they’re cocooned.
6) Menu and service are highlighted in a focused environment such as this, so choose the menu and caterer carefully. If at all possible, use a caterer that has been recommended by a trusted source who has previous experience with them. Be aware of special diets or allergies of your guests AND their guests. Be prepared for a vegetarian or two that may not have conveyed their needs ahead of time.