Some prefer to invite a larger number of people and just manage a larger group if everyone accepts, while others prefer to invite exactly the number they wish to have, and only invite additional people if spots become open. Both approaches have their downsides; the first approach might leave you with too many people (personally, I'm in the "more the merrier" camp); the second with some guests feeling slighted if they were invited very late.
Setting the Table
Set the table before guests arrive. You might even want to do this the day before to save yourself time. You may set the table as formally or casually as you like, but do not use disposable dishes, flatware, glasses or napkins unless it is a picnic in the park. Everyone should have cloth napkins; they are not expensive and they are more environmentally friendly – simply throw them in with the rest of the laundry after each use. It's nice to use a tablecloth or placemats, and put some low flowers and unscented candles on the table for a little decoration that will still allow your guests to see one another. If you want to be more formal, you can put out silverware for each course, but don't feel that you have to be terribly fancy as sometimes a one-plate home-cooked meal is just fine.
Drinks and Hors D'oeuvres
In addition to the meal, you should have something for your guests to nibble on when they arrive. You can have something as simple as some nice cheeses, crackers, and olives to tide your guests over, or make a little antipasto platter, or cook up something more elaborate. Have some mixers and soft drinks at the ready, as well as some red and white wine, or perhaps even something bubbly to start off the evening. Dinner parties can get very expensive, so if you're on a budget just keep it simple – the company and home cooking will be the most important things.
So here's hoping all your dinner preparations go smoothly and easily and thank you for listening to quick and dirty tips for a more polite life.
Be sure to check out "Dinner Parties, Part Two" to find out what to do when your guests start to arrive.
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