How to Throw a Fabulous Dinner Party: Theme Ideas, Invitations, and Menus

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Whether it's a birthday, baby shower, or just a much needed girl's night, dinner parties are a great way to celebrate. Here are some tips and tricks to pulling off a dinner party that you can enjoy just as much as your guests!

Step one: Choose a Theme 

First, pick the general theme you want for you dinner party; it could be a sophisticated soiree or a more intimate gathering. You can also think of the theme in relation to the season, occasion, and of course, venue! If the venue is modern, your theme might be more of a minimalistic black tie affair, but if the venue is romantic and worldly you could go with something more rustic chic. Here are some theme ideas:

Theme #1: Black and Gold "à la Mode"-- This theme is all about modern class. While its color pattern works well with Fall and Winter, it can also be used in the Spring and Summer, as long as the event is at night. As the name suggests, black and gold are the predominant colors used; however, pops of white work nicely to give it a crisper look (think white roses or orchids).

Step one: Choose a Theme

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Best for: Dinner parties for birthdays, bachelors, and business.

Ideal venue: The La Jolla Modern. It's uninterrupted views of the Pacific, floor-to-ceiling windows, and designer furnishes throughout exude class and luxury. It accommodates up to 120 guests for an event and 50 for a seated dinner.

La Jolla Modern- dinner party venue

La Jolla Modern- dinner party venue

Theme #2: Sweet Soiree -- Lately, the fashion world is all about combining prints and textures-- think polkadots and floral. These combos result is a fun yet sophisticated look that can be used for a sweet French-inspired dinner party. This theme can be made more rustic when paired with wood or cork or can be made elegant by muting the color pallet a bit and combining touches of gold and crystal. I love the table setting below, which seems to master simple elegance.

Sweet Soirée

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Best for: Dinner party for a bridal shower, baby shower, wedding, business, or birthday.

Ideal venue: The Emmaline Estate in Rancho Santa Fe combines French touches with colorful gardens. The combination of antique window panels, citrus trees, and a running water creek masters a natural combination of textures and colors.

dinner party venues in Rancho Santa Fe, Ca

dinner party venues San Diego, Ca

Theme #3: Go Raw!-- Be different and host a hip raw dinner party. You'll be surprised how many delicious raw food recipes are available and how many caterers are on board with the idea. As far as decor goes, keep them just as "raw" and simple. Instead of doing the usual "shabby" chic think more minimalistic and refined. This is mastered with a white base accented by a muted color pallet, and pops of color found in dainty floral arrangements. One of my favorite combos is gray, white, and dainty lilacs in old glass milk jars.

You can still add some burlap but skip the "nicknacks".

Tip: Sunflowers look great with rustic decor plus you can usually find them for a good price during the summer. Also, market lighting always works fabulously with this theme!

Theme #3: Go Raw!

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Best for: Yoga retreats, baby showers, and corporate celebrations.

Ideal venue: Encuentro Guadalupe is a modern architectural masterpiece immersed in everything "raw": culture, history, and nature. You won't find a place more hip, chic, and eco-friendly than this unique estate venue.

Event Venues in Mexico

Event Venues in Valle de Guadalupe

Step Two: Send Out the Invitations 

It is important to decide on the theme and feel of the event before the invitations are extended as that will dictate the type of invitation to send. If it is a more casual gathering, Paperless Posts and e-mails are fine; however, a more formal event calls for written invites. For information about wedding invitations, check out Wedding Invitation Etiquette.

Make sure to include the date, time, deadline for RSVP, address, and the preferred manner of dress.

Tip: Most dinner parties start at around 7pm so that an hour can be devoted to cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and mingling.

Point Loma Event Space

Taken at Bayview Mansion

Step Three: Pick the Menu 

Deciding on what food to serve is tricky because the goal is to choose something universally liked by everyone. This is tricky simply because frankly, this perfect menu just does not exist! The best bet for dinner parties is to keep the food simple and have it correspond well with the weather and season. No one likes hot chili in the middle of summer...but here are some dinner party staples that will always be a sure bet.

Hor d'oeuvres: The most important thing to remember is not to fill your guests with cheese and crackers before the main meal-- this is every chef's nightmare! Instead, the perfect starter plate can be boiled down to a simple recipe: something sweet + something crunchy + something pickled + something from a pig + something aged. (Special thanks to Jenny Rosenstrach from Dinner: A Love Story

Step Three: Pick the Menu

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Wine and Cocktails: Wine and cocktails are usually the area where dinner hosts get to show off a little bit. Instead of simply offering the most expensive wine you can find or reaching for that good scotch, do something different by serving the newest wine and cocktail trend.

Food & Wine raves about the unique 2012 Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer. It is totally unlike any other wine and described as defying stereotypes with its, "solid acid, subtle sweetness, a spiced, floral nose and a kaleidoscopic array of flavors that include guava, salty minerals and brown butter."

Wine and Cocktails

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Main Dish: Here are some delicious dishes for every season--

Spring and Summer: Kale has suddenly become the hottest trend in the food world because it's healthy, delicious, and versatile. Try Chef Andrew Zimmern's Kale Salad with Miso and Pistachios for something different and delicious that works well with spring and summer weather.

Time for the main dish

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Fall and Winter: Colder seasons call for heftier food such as Italian...cue Mario Batali! You've go to try his Cavatelli with Spicy Winter Squash, which he describes, "This pasta always propels me into fall." You can also substitute different types of squash depending on your local market.

Cavatelli with Spicy Winter Squash

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Final Step: 

Enjoy! Being the host of a dinner party is incredibly rewarding but can sometimes be stressful. Make sure you give yourself ample time to plan so that you can enjoy the party just as much as everyone else. If anything goes wrong, don't sweat it, dinner parties are all about having a good time with friends and family!

Your turn... 

What is your favorite dinner party recipe?