This week we're launching our Gatherings from The Kitchn series, with my Italian polenta supper the first of many dinner parties we'll share with you this year. What makes a great dinner party? Besides food, wine, and friends, what are the easiest ways to set a dinner party atmosphere? Here are my own top 5 habits for setting a dinner party atmosphere; these are all really simple things -- you may do them too without even thinking about them! -- but I'm curious to share, and for you to tell me if you do things differently! Here are my top 5 tips for creating a really good dinner party atmosphere...
Actually, this is the most important thing...
5 Tips for Creating Great Dinner Party Atmosphere
- Turn down the lights. When I lived in a little apartment with an eat-in kitchen that had horrible harsh overhead light, I compensated by plunking a lamp on the table and turning off the overheads. There's nothing like dimming the lights to set a mood, and it's the easiest thing to do.
- Light some (cheap) candles. Candles add movement and warmth to the table. I keep stacks of them around and burn a couple nearly every night at dinner time. This doesn't need to be an expensive habit; I buy votives at IKEA, or look for glass jar candles like these, which when bought in bulk are super cheap and will last you a good long time.
- Use fabric napkins. There are eco-friendly reasons to use cloth instead of paper, but they are just a bonus, for me. I like the feel of a substantial fabric napkin on my lap, and it adds a gracious touch to the table. Again, they don't need to be expensive. I have a huge stack of IKEA TEKLA towels that a friend cut in half and hemmed. That red and white rustic look is perfect for almost every dinner party around here!
- Bring in warm colors. This may just be a personal preference, but I like to have one spot of warm color on the table. Food tends to be warm, and I like to set it off with a flower or two, or a colorful trivet or towel under one of the dishes. Once again -- this doesn't need to be something lavish, like a florist's centerpiece. Snap a sprig of holly off a bush, or spread a few fall leaves under the candles.
- Turn on the music! Last but not least, don't forget the music. What's your favorite dinner party music? We've been dining to a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane lately, and for larger parties I like to play an iTunes mix of folk and Americana -- Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, the Avett Bros. and more of their kindred spirits. We make sure the volume is low enough to easily talk over. The music fills in silences, and adds a sense of motion to the evening.