How to Host


Blair Waddell Mard

What is the key to a great dinner party? Being relaxed. Things may not move the way you want and dishes may not turn out the way you envision, but as long as you can be flexible, you’ll still have a fabulous time.

Do you serve certain types of food and drink?

Host1I love using parties to try new recipes and themes. And I’m a huge fan of having a signature cocktail of the night to start.

What are your “do’s and don’ts” for dinner parties? Always have fresh flowers. Don’t think you always have to serve on your fine china. Do play some background music. And most importantly, although your guests may initially say they don’t want dessert, always have it. Whether it’s simple dark chocolate or sun-ripened summer fruit, everyone loves a closing to a meal and it will not go to waste.

How do you help guests mingle and make conversation? Scatter food and drinks around the room. When you place appetizers in different areas, like a separate cocktail station or a wine/beer area, it will ensure people will circulate and strike up new conversations as the night goes on. I also love a good card game to really get things moving.

What suggestions do you have for people wanting to start hosting dinner parties? Have fun and enjoy the moment. Like a nice hand-written note, the art of entertaining is an important Southern tradition and a genuine gesture that can’t be replicated or fabricated.




Host3Starr Card

What is the key to a great dinner party?

I feel like the key to a great dinner party is to keep it intimate with a small group. As host, it will give you the chance to give each guest equal attention.

What kind of timeline do you like to follow?  I try to prepare as many things as I can in advance so I am available to my guests the day of the party. I typically try to have everything I need at least four days before the event.

Host6What are your “do’s and don’ts” for dinner parties? I do try and find out in advance if any of my guests have allergies or a specific diet that needs to be followed. I don’t single that person out by preparing something different for them, but I will adjust the entire meal for everyone. If you are a confident and seasoned cook, you can do that without anyone knowing.

How do you help guests mingle and make conversation? I always serve small bites and a beverage before the meal to break the ice and to let everyone get acquainted if they’ve never met, or simply let them get in the mood for the evening if they already know each other.

What suggestions do you have for people who want to start hosting dinner parties?
My suggestions would be start small, prepare well in advance, and don’t do anything outside your culinary comfort zone. Slowly build your confidence and add more guests as you go along. And for goodness’ sake, have fun!



Host4Kim Gavin

What is the key to a great dinner party?

Keep it as simple as possible so you have time to spend with your guests. It doesn’t matter how fancy the food is or what the table décor looks like. I’ve done parties where I’ve had stuff so complicated that I’ve spent all my time in the kitchen, but the best parties are the ones where you can hang out with your guests.

What kind of timeline do you like to follow?  It depends on what your goal is. If you have a fairly large dinner with a lot of courses, you don’t want to have a lot of appetizers or drinks right up front. You want to let people pace their appetite through the evening.

What music do you like to play?  I usually rely on Pandora or Genius on my iPhone or iPad for a playlist. The go-to for my husband and I is some kind of soft jazz.

What suggestions do you have for people who want to start hosting dinner parties?  I think everyone has his or her own style, and if you feel like doing something, try it out. I like to add special touches like fresh flowers, nice towels and soap in the guest bathroom, and candles. Anything that makes people feel welcome.



Host5Paula Henderson

What is the key to a great dinner party?

I think the most important element is the people you invite. If you get an eclectic group of people together, it’ll be really interesting. It’s a small world because we all have so much in common, and at a dinner party, we get to talk over food and wine and music. It’s a great experience.

How do you help guests mingle and make conversation?   A great icebreaker to use is the “how do you know the host or hostess?” question. Everyone knows each other in a different context, so the responses will be diverse.

What music do you like to play?  I love to have both background music as well as music you can sing along to. Mostly my friends like a lot of oldies from the ’60s and ’70s and country music, too. I also love jazz. I think the music can change throughout the night: pre-dinner, during dinner, and after. You get the vibes going early on so people will feel receptive to talking and chatting, and then at dinner, tone it down a little so they can have conversation around the table.

What suggestions do you have for people wanting to start hosting dinner parties?  Make the food and drink you serve a part of the conversation: “Where did you get this wine? Is there a story about where you got it? Is this a family recipe?” It’s a dining experience.




Host8Kim Wamp

What is the key to a great dinner party? Preparing everything in advance is really important. I try and prepare almost everything the day before the event. I also try not to stress about having people over. If things aren’t perfect, that’s ok. If you’re stressing, no one will enjoy it like they should. I just try and make it really casual. I think the goal is to always make people feel comfortable.

What are your “do’s and don’ts” for dinner parties? Do rely on people you trust to help with larger parties. It’s great to find a couple of caterers and florists that you trust and who know how you like things. I also love candlelight and flowers—both really help to set the ambiance.

How do you help guests mingle and make conversation? Usually with our family, everybody’s pretty willing to talk. We probably talk too much! I just watch and see if there’s someone who seems left out, and me, my husband Zach, or one of the kids will go over and introduce them to someone at the party to make sure that they’re involved.

What suggestions do you have for people who want to start hosting dinner parties?  When I do small dinner parties, it’s all about having fun. Try to plan ahead so the party will be stress free and everyone will be comfortable.




Host7Carol George

What is the key to a great dinner party? When I do things at my house, there’s always some sort of activity to keep people engaged and having fun. I also think having a really good caterer is very important.

What’s your first step to setting up a dinner party? My first task is usually deciding on a theme, as it can really help make a dinner party memorable. I like to tie the beverages to the theme of the party. People love to try something new and fun. In the summer, it could be a lemonade and Firefly vodka drink, and in the winter, something with peppermint.

How do you help guests mingle and make conversation? I like to set up different areas around my home so people can move around, mix, and mingle. I think it lends to better conversation and a really fun time. I don’t ever let anyone sit by themselves, and I think it’s important to walk around and talk to everybody. Making your guests feel very comfortable, warm, and welcome is key.

What kind of timeline do you like to follow? It depends on the type of dinner party you’re hosting. For a cocktails-only party, a 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. timeframe works great. For parties where you’ll be serving dinner, I like for light hors d’oeuvres to be out early, so people don’t get too full for the main meal.

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