6 Home Goods You Need for a Dinner Party
We’ve all been there—backyard barbecues where you’re pulling hot dog buns out of the plastic bag and eating with your hands off a minuscule piece of paper towel. You count yourself lucky if there are flimsy paper plates (you know the kind where you have to triple them up to even hold your sandwich and some chips?) and plastic forks for the one person who dared to bring a pasta salad. While these barren landscapes of proper party form are totally fine when you’re at the age of drinking wine coolers and Natty-Ice, there comes a time when adulting is more than serving actual wine and craft beers: Enter the dinner party.
I categorize everything from formal sit-down holiday dinners to weeknight meals with friends and yes, those barbecues as falling under “dinner party.” That demands a certain level of quality to your entertaining. In addition to the obvious—good food and better drinks—setting the mood means setting the table. Please hold your vigils now for Solo cups and Daisy paper plates; here are the six home goods you need for throwing a proper dinner party.
Of course, you’ll want something to eat on. That means an actual plate, be it porcelain, ceramic, earthenware, maybe even reusable plastic—just not one-time use. While you may think a paper plate is convenient (you don’t have to clean up right?), it says a few things about you: you’re cheap, lazy, wasteful, unsympathetic to the environment, and definitely not grown-up. You may think I’m harsh, but I’m harsh on myself too, especially when I serve Friendsgiving to 20-plus guests on bamboo plates. They are better than Dixie, but I’m definitely not feeling good about my inner hostess at that moment.
I love having a set of Wedgwood China—a pattern I picked out when I married my husband—to serve for the most formal gatherings. It pairs with gold flatware for a modern-yet-classic place setting. For more casual meals, I use a set of black ceramic plates from CB2 that I complement with salad plates from various escapades, such as a set of intricately designed plates from an Indian designer. For outdoor gatherings, I love the look of earthenware, but I totally support the use of less expensive ceramics or reusable plastics in fun colors, especially if the event is taking place poolside or with children.
If I must go with one-time use—cringe—I always opt for Leaf Bamboo plates. They are probably five times sturdier than a paper plate, though, don’t quote the “science,” and look pretty nice on a table. They certainly aren’t as cheap either, and shockingly, they’re biodegradable so you can feel considerably less horrible about throwing them away.
Basically, everything laid out about plates applies to flatware too. Do away with the one-time use plastic you buy in bulk (looking at you, suburbia) and opt for a few sets of flatware for various occasions. Because, let’s be real: plastic knives and forks don’t really function anyway.
Like plates, I divide my flatware sets into a few categories. The most formal dinner parties call for the gold flatware that matches my china or the heirloom family silverware. For more casual parties, I pull out my trendy black flatware or use my everyday metal set. Outdoor events don’t mean you can’t use actual flatware, so my everyday set can make its way alfresco. It has less of a chance of breaking, like ceramic plates, so it can be used by a pool.
If you’ve read any of my posts on cocktail parties, you certainly know how I feel about serving drinks, even wine on the roof in the summer, in plastic cups: you just don’t do it. First off, plastic makes everything taste weird. If you don’t believe me, pour the same wine into a plastic Solo cup and a glass tumbler. You tell me if you notice a difference.
Put some time and energy toward proper glassware for your parties—you can reserve stemmed glasses and crystal for the most formal parties, and use studier glasses for everyday affairs. I usually opt for glass outside too, but if you’re worried about pools and kids, definitely go the reusable plastic route.
Decorative straws can be a fun addition to glassware for shindigs, especially for festive events, but I do opt for paper over plastic. (Those poor sea turtles! And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, google it.) As a kid, I loved my curly, reusable plastic straw for every dinner outside, so those are great options for kiddos too.
Linens & Napkins
No table or party is complete without napkins and some decorative linens. They add instant buzz to your tabletop and can show tons of personality. In fact, I’d so much rather see a festive tablecloth than I would paper plates spouting the American flag for the Fourth of July or cartoon-ish turkeys for Thanksgiving. My favorite? A tablecloth covered in hot pink flamingos that just screams summer punch party to me! Beyond tablecloths, you can adorn your eating surfaces and buffet areas with runners and/or placemats.
Napkins are definitely their own adventure. How do you choose from quirky paper cocktail napkins and hand-embroidered linen versions affixed with your monogram? I say it all works. For formal occasions, I bust out the gold-threaded napkins. Everyday dinner parties get to choose from my collection of fun fabric napkins that I’ve purchased everywhere from Snowe Home and Bloomingdale’s to TJ Maxx. Small cocktail affairs get to use my fabric cocktail napkins in bold colors from the MOMA store, while large-scale cocktail parties mean I source fancy paper napkins to fit the season/mood/vibe.
Even the most casual get-together calls for something to make the gathering feel special. I call that a centerpiece, and my versions almost always equal fresh flowers in a beautiful vase. But sometimes that can be traded for a candelabra, beautiful votives, a funky objet from the collection, or a dessert display. Each table should have something to anchor it, so if you’re hosting a party with multiple rounds of farm tables, be sure to secure at least one centerpiece for each. I do think that smaller tables call for low arrangements, so that guests can speak with one another. Longer tables mean you can go for higher, since you can place the centerpieces out of the line of sight of two guests sitting across from one another. Also, note the ceiling height before deciding between tall or short—the larger the room, the bigger the centerpiece.
Now that you’ve gone to all this trouble to make your table settings look like something worthy of Pinterest, don’t ruin it by serving dinner in leftover takeout containers or chafing dishes from the grocery store. Get yourself some standard serving dishes, including a few large bowls, a large platter, a lazy susan for chips and dip, cheese board, pitchers for drinks and water, and a cake plate for desserts. To make things easy on yourself and your storage, you can get these items in a basic white ceramic or other neutral hue—I quite like teak wood—to use for every party. For my formal dinner parties, I do have serving dishes that match my China. Most China patterns come in every item imaginable, including teapots and gravy boats. I also like tracking down antique versions of some serving dishes as an unique accessory to my table, such as a Dorothy Thorpe silver-rimmed punch bowl and ice cream bowls from the 1950s. It’s a conversation starter at the least!