The best dinner parties require menu planning down to the most infinitesimal detail.  But it is vital to keep in mind that mere food and drink do not a party make.  The glittering tablescape is equally important in setting mood for the evening, while giving your guests an aesthetic preview of what’s to come from the kitchen.

Here is your guide to reaching the apex - that grandiose feeling that will linger in your guests’ minds long after that last glass of Veuve.  xx tt

1.       CHINA/DISHWARE:  pick one element of the table to focus on.  Build the rest of your setting around that item.  Unless you are using white plates (a minimalist must!), the dishes will take up most of the table, rendering them a fetching focal point.  For Maria’s birthday, my fabulous friend Lauren and I decided that floral china and dainty teacups would properly set the English Garden tone we had envisaged.  After scouring every thrift store in San Francisco, we found gorgeous plates, saucers, and chargers at remarkably doable prices.  Teacups proved more difficult to locate – who knew that they were such sought-after collectibles?  Happily, my mother had plenty ready to pilfer for the party.  Whatever dishware you choose, keep the ground rules in mind – first, make sure that you have enough for each guest + each course, and second, as you’re sourcing excitedly, keep your color scheme in mind.

2.       POP OF COLOR:  consider the following items you will incorporate into your color scheme post-dish selection - tablecloth, placecards, menus, napkins, napkin-rings, flowers, centerpieces.  If your party is a simple dinner for friends, the décor will likely be subtle – and you will have one or two similar colors – browns, whites, metallics.  But if you are following a more elaborate scheme, you should take the time to pick complimentary colors for your setting.  A simple rule for creating style and appeal when matching colors is that opposites on the color wheel fare well together – salmon/turquoise, pink/mint, lavender/lemon.

As my china was primarily pink, I chose a white damask tablecloth.  The hue was simple, but its raised texture kept it from being plain.  For napkins, I used lavender crepe with classic silver rings.  I echoed the napkins with shades of purple in the floral arrangements and the menucards.   For the placecards, I chose a bright yellow adorned with butterfly stamps and gold lettering.

3.       GLASSWARE:  you will never know exactly what your guests will want to drink, so it is vital to provide a wine glass, a champagne flute, and a water glass so that they may properly enjoy their choice.  Though such a variation of glassware will take up lots of space, their luster will play off the candles to create a glistening ambiance.  I like to pick glasses with different heights, and embellishments – for example I often mix plain Pottery Barn water glasses with Napoleon Bee cups. 

4.       SIGNATURE COCKTAIL:  A very special way to make your fete unique is to provide a personalized cocktail for the evening.  For Maria’s party, my friend Dare concocted a signature drink – “Mia’s Pomegranate Sparkler,” composed of POM pomegranate extract, champagne, and grand marnier over ice with an orange twist.  Instead of adding a fourth glass to an already packed table, we handed the frothy pink cocktail to guests upon arrival.