Yesterday, I guided you through the basics of table-setting.  Today, I present instructions for the rest of your party’s milieu - those ultra-finishing touches that will set your dinner apart from the ordinary.  xx tt

1.  STRESS: If this were one of those interviews where the pesky man in the Brooks Brothers suit asks, “what is one quality that you need to work on?”  I would undoubtedly answer, “my stress level.”  Admittedly, putting on a party this comprehensive is stressful.  But what would you prefer your guests remember?  The delectable parmesan popovers, or the image of you running around your kitchen like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off?  While it is impossible to ensure that everything turns out perfectly, there are a few tricks to prevent pre-fete flusters.  Plan ahead, make lists, take care of what you can (like the flowers and table settings) the night before, and have a trusty sous-chef on hand to answer the door, pour the bubbly, and entertain your guests while you put the finishing touches on dinner.  You will thank yourself the next day, and your guests will actually get to spend the evening having fun with their hostess with the mostest.

2.  PARTY FAVORS:  Gifts for guests are not just for tots!  On the contrary - having a little something for your friends to take home will cap off your party beautifully and serve as a delightful remembrance of the evening in the weeks that follow.  It doesn’t have to be a significant cost, in fact, this is the one arena where cute and clever trumps rococo excess.  Some thoughtful presents include homemade chocolate sauce, Polaroid pictures from the party in chic frames, Christmas Tree ornaments, flowers from the table, or monogrammed napkins. 

As my agenda was jam-packed planning the rest of Maria’s dinner, I left the party favors to Lauren and Kiki.  They chose a naughty combination to offset the extreme girlishness of the tablescape – lacy hanky-panky panties tied with ribbon and miniature pastel moleskins with tear-out sheets perfect for love notes to our admirers.  Party favors should always have a little story behind them, and the very best favors tell that story with a wink and a nod.

3.  PLAYLIST:  I make playlists for every occasion – huge party playlists, cooking playlists, driving to Tahoe playlists…  I love choosing songs that make people excited.  A dinner party playlist is the most difficult to create.  Let’s just say that it’s not the most appropriate time to have Snoop Dogg’s “Gangsta Luv” pulsing through your iPod dock.  If you are feeling ambitious, make two playlists – one for a post-dinner impromptu dance party, and one for the rest of the evening.  Classics are always in perfect taste – Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Van Morrison, Chopin.  Soundtracks are also an effortless choice because they usually have seamless transitions.  Here are my choices depending on your party’s disposition:

·  Best Mellow: Garden State

·  Best Upbeat: Dazed and Confused

·  Best Romantic: Top Gun (maybe skip past “Danger Zone”…)

·  Best Disco: Saturday Night Fever

·  Best Girlish: Pretty in Pink

·  Best Masculine: The Godfather

·  Best Halloween: Vertigo

·  Best Holiday: Love Actually

4.  FINISHING TOUCHES:  My favorite time in the evening is the point where the table is set, and I get to add the finishing touches - thereby completing my vision!  Choose a few items to tie the setting together, and offer a bit of shimmer without becoming too cluttered.  I love extra-tall candles paired with flickering votives, gold and pewter pumpkins, lilliputian mirrors, handfuls of tiny rhinestones, painted eggshells for bud vases, as well as the subtle incorporation the ingredients of a dish being served.  These accoutrements largely depend on the season and the mood.  For this particular dinner party, I highlighted the English Garden feel by featuring long baby pink taper candles, puffy pastel marshmallows to fill the vintage teacups, and glitter-encrusted butterflies that I discovered for $5 apiece at Fantastico party supply store to add to the bouquets.  And there you have it, dinner party perfection!