Staging a festive dinner party

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Christmas is fast approaching and what better way to celebrate than by hosting a dinner party for friends and family?

As hosting a bash of this kind can be stressful, we have some top tips to help remove all the potential headaches and ensure you have a night to remember.

The food

Once your guests have RSVP’d and you know how many people are coming, it is time to start planning your menu. Christmas is the perfect time to really show off your cooking skills and knowledge of seasonal produce. Whilst turkey is delicious it is not the only option, with venison, goose, beef Wellington and even a side of salmon all being popular alternatives.

If you are stuck for ideas, it is worth taking a look at Jamie Oliver’s website as he has a whole section dedicated to Christmas. Throughout December, he is posting a tip of the day every day on how to create the perfect festive meal. You may have some vegetarians or vegan friends or family members joining you for your party so ensure you also cater for their needs. We think vegetarian cook Anna Jones’ butternut and pistachio roast is just the ticket for your veggie pals and it just needs a bit of tweaking if you need to make it dairy free.

In terms of finding out what vegetables are in season at this time of year and tips on how to cook them, head to The British Larder website. The recipes on here are written by professional chefs and it contains a useful database on seasonal produce month by month. In December, vegetables like parsnips, swede, potatoes and Brussels sprouts are in season but just be sure you do not overcook them as no one likes a soggy sprout!

The drinks

When offering your guests a drink on arrival at your house, it is important to have a range of options available including wine, beer, spirits and soft drinks. You can also wow your guests by creating a homemade bowl of winter warming mulled wine or cider, but if you want to offer something a bit different, American food writer Martha Stewart has some knockout drinks recipes on her website. Impress your guests with this pomegranate champagne punch or by serving glasses of this candy cane cocktail and people will soon be full of festive cheer.

The party

You have planned the food and drink but how do you throw a party to remember? British etiquette experts Debrett’s advises that you should do as much preparation as you can before your guests arrive, such as laying the table and preparing the food so that you are free to spend time entertaining them. If you are not planning on serving dinner for a couple of hours, have a few canapés up your sleeve for when your guests first arrive. We think these Serrano wrapped pear and goat’s cheese canapés are a light but delicious pre-dinner bite to keep hunger at bay.

In terms of your seating plan, Debrett’s says that the traditional formation is for the host and hostess to sit either end of the table with guests in the middle – if you are doing most of the cooking, you might want to ensure you are sitting closest to the kitchen. Where possible, try to alternate men and women, while couples should not be sat next to each other so that your guests can mingle.

To ensure conversation is not stifled, try to sit those with similar interests together and balance out the talkative ones by ensuring they are sat at opposite ends of the table. Above all else, Debrett’s says to steer clear from conversations that might be awkward for any of your guests… Christmas is a time for fun and joy, so perhaps shelve the long conversations about politics!

After dinner, offer tea and coffee and give people half an hour or so to digest before cranking up the festive tunes a few notches and rocking around the Christmas tree… if you feel so inclined.

Debrett's is a long-established source on British social skills, etiquette and style, offering a range of coaching, training and classes, as well as guides, luxury diaries and notebooks. Find out more by visiting http://www.debretts.com/