How To Entertain With Waterford

Every great dinner party, family get together, or stay-at-home celebration owes its success to carefully considered plans and thoughtful hosts. With more people now opting to entertain at home, close friends and family have become the sought-after 1950s socialites that were waited on, catered for and endlessly entertained. But the year is 2020, and sheer opulence isn’t all that’s on the menu.

Catering for the many tastes of our guests is still the main course, but our modern ingredients are working smarter, not harder. Etiquette and order have made way for comfort and contentment. The allure of a three-course meal with aperitifs is fading, as sharing platters, potluck and DIY drinks have brought with them a ‘feast not fuss’ attitude that’s keeping both guests and hosts happy.

To help you uncover the joy in party preparations and entertain with confidence on your big night, we’ve created this comprehensive party planning guide with answers to the most common questions on home entertainment and how to do it right.

For ease, we’ve organised these bestkept secrets into the three cornerstones of any memorable celebration: Planning, On The Night and Food & Drink, so that you can quickly find the solution to your party planning problem.

Planning - How to plan your dinner party

The key to a memorable party and satisfied guests is all in the planning. To ensure the occasion exceeds expectations, start by organising the basic elements before incorporating the bells and whistles.

Starting with a very simple checklist ensures that you cover all bases, and, as you complete tasks, allows you to track your progress in the lead up to the big night.

Any great party plan should start with the same concepts, whether you’re hosting a relaxed dinner party with family or an engagement party for your closest friends. The cornerstones to party planning are:

  • Location
  • Food & Drink
  • Entertainment
  • Timings

It's up to you to get creative with the rest.

Create your dinner party checklist


With so many points to think about and consider when planning a dinner party, creating a checklist is the best way to ensure that the evening runs smoothly and provides your guests with a memorable experience

  • Pick the date
  • Create the guest list
  • Decide your menu
  • Send your invites
  • Plan your cooking schedule
  • Rearrange your room (if needed)
  • Choose your glassware
  • Decide on parlour games
  • Set the table·    

There’s always the concern that you might forget something crucial for your party, so don’t be afraid to add even the smallest details to your party planning checklist. The most forgotten dinner party necessities include ice, candles, extra toilet paper and garbage bags, bottle opener, fire starters (if a BBQ is involved in your meal), bar garnishes (lemon, lime and olives), salt and pepper, and candles.

Who to invite to your dinner party

One of the most exciting things about party planning is the guest list. Once you have worked out what sort of dinner party you’ll be having - for example, a casual get together or a formal, grand affair - you will have a much better idea of who will receive that special invite.

Close friends and relatives are generally the first names you should add to your list, as these are the easiest to pick. Be aware that many people expect to bring their partner to a dinner party, so be prepared for plus ones on your guest list. After this, you should consider acquaintances you’d like to get to know better, colleagues, important corporate guests and extended family. You can also create a ‘waiting list’ of people you’d like to invite if your original guests can’t make it.

Whoever you decide to invite, be sure you have enough space and seating for all of them to comfortably move around and mingle, as well as space at the table to eat.

How to set your dinner party table (and create the right atmosphere)

Your table setting will speak volumes about what the evening will entail. It is generally the first thing guests notice as well as comment on, so ensure that your table setting matches the atmosphere you want to create.

For a casual dinner party, place prepared appetizers on the table and encourage guests to help themselves whilst they wait for the main event. Platters and sharing boards have become extremely popular ways to entertain in recent years, featuring long, sprawling boards topped with antipasti, dips, breads and meats which guests plate up for themselves.

Table decorations such as themed napkins and fresh flowers will produce a light mood, whilst ambient music or an eclectic dinner playlist will encourage guests to relax.

A more formal occasion is where you should pull out all the stops. The first step to success is to lay out your best tablecloth, crystal glassware, plates and cutlery, incorporating details like candles, creative centrepieces, place cards and folded napkins to deliver new heights of sophistication. Keep the music mellow or classical and the lights dimmed for a romantic ambience.

Tip: Hiring someone to serve your guests from a set menu will create a memorable experience they won’t forget.

What time should your party start?

The starting time of your dinner party will depend on many factors, such as the schedules of your guests, how far they’re travelling and the age range of your visitors. These are important points to consider, as setting a time too late may mean your guests are not getting home until the small hours of the morning. Alternatively, setting a time too early may mean they are having to rush from work or the day’s activities and may arrive stressed or distracted.

A good general rule of thumb is to set the start time between 7 and 8pm, giving guests a chance to go home and change, while still making sure your party is not too late for senior visitors or those with young children. It’s a good idea to take a general survey from your guests if you can on which start time suits them best, or what time they are most likely to arrive.

How long should your dinner party last?

The runtime of your dinner party will depend on the same factors that dictate the time that it should start. A general rule of thumb is that most guests will want to stay for around two to three hours, which gives plenty of time for appetizers, the main meal, dessert, after dinner games and conversation. Guests who have children or older guests might need to leave earlier than others, so be prepared that the dynamic or numbers of the group may change over the course of the evening. With a 7pm start time, 10pm is not too late for most to call time on their wonderful evening.

Similarly, it’s not unusual for dinner parties to kick the curfew and last much longer than the average time. You might find that after most of your guests have gone home that you’re sharing some time with just one or two, which is a great time to engage in deeper conversations or to catch up with each other on a personal level. A dinner party held on the weekend means your guests might enjoy carrying on into the small hours without having to worry about work or early responsibilities the next day.

On the night

How to welcome guests at your dinner party

After months of planning the most stunning dinner party, the hour is upon you. After putting in so much hard work, ensure that your guests’ first impression is the right one. Although there is no one-sizefits-all solution, there are some hard and fast rules irrespective of your theme.


Show your guests that they are welcome and that you’re happy to see them. Offer to take coats and jackets and enquire whether your welcome guests would like a drink - make sure that you’ve got a varied selection.


No matter what, you should always introduce your guests to unfamiliar faces at the party. This will avoid any awkward introductions and demonstrates fantastic hosting skills. A great way to introduce guests to each other is to share their names and then share one interesting fact about each person to get the conversation flowing. For example, “Dana, this is Greg - Greg works in finance and loves to go mountain biking on the weekends. Greg, this is Dana - Dana knows Geoffrey and Judy, and their children do horse riding lessons together. Would you both like a drink?”


Although sometimes forgotten, the importance of ensuring your home is at an ample temperature cannot be understated. If you’re planning dinner parties during the colder months make sure that you heat your home throughout the day, turning off just 30 minutes before your guests arrive. The warmth will make your home more welcoming and your guests more relaxed.

Use place-cards to encourage new friendships

Place cards are no longer just for weddings, as the sophisticated and modern dinner party host knows that assigned seating is a fantastic way for guests to mingle outside their usual social sphere. This is also an opportunity to show off your style with classy, well designed cards emblazoned with your guest’s name in a beautiful font.

Adding small touches such as these shows appreciation for your guests as they get to know new friends, and offers a conversation starter for quieter visitors. Plan out your seating arrangements in advance and have a good think about which friends or colleagues you think would get along.

The art of conversation


Good conversation is a skill, and when mastered it can transform first-time hosts into the life of a party. Having a broad knowledge of current events, fun facts and pop culture is the best way to ensure you’ve always got something to discuss should the table go quiet. A skilled conversationalist will be able to read the room and adjust the topic accordingly, and as a general rule, it’s always best to avoid topics that could divide your guests (such as politics or religion).

Being able to start a conversation allows your guests to jump in with their own anecdotes, experiences and opinions, which will organically lead into other topics and tales.

Having a prepared list of conversation starters will make it much easier for you to engage with your guests and get them conversing. People famously love to talk about themselves, so when in doubt don’t be afraid to ask personal questions. Or better yet, engage them with a compliment. A genuine and well-placed compliment on someone’s dress or hairstyle, or a strong handshake never goes astray and opens up the conversation immediately.

Be sure you aren’t asking closed-ended questions, as those that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ are the antithesis to engaging conversation. These sorts of questions might be, “Did you have a safe trip here?” or “Are you enjoying dinner?” More effective questions to ask are those which are open ended, such as “What was the last good book you read?” or “Which podcasts have you been enjoying lately?” These encourage a longer response which gives your guests a chance to become more confident and open up.

After-dinner board games


Board games are a classic favourite to enjoy during downtime, but at a dinner party with more willing participants, they make for fantastic ice breakers as well as a quirky main event. With so many options for board games, you will have no trouble finding something that everyone can enjoy.

Classic board games such as Monopoly, MahJong, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit and Cluedo add an extra touch of nostalgia to your dinner party. If you’re looking for something a little more modern, then Celebrity Heads and Taboo are bound to keep guests entertained.

Reminisce with photos and videos


If you and your guests have known each other for a long time, you’re bound to have years of photographs and videos to reminisce together with. If you’ve got the time, you could even create a special slide show and play it on the big screen for everyone to enjoy at once.

For guests who are unfamiliar with each other, taking a trip down memory lane is a fun way to engage them in conversation.

If many of your guests are new friends, it’s the perfect time to start making new memories together. Taking photos and videos at the party will add to or even start a new memory lane, so be sure to get everyone together for a few friendly snaps so you can remember the evening in years to come.

Ice breaker games

Ice breakers are designed to relax guests and encourage them to get to know one another, as well as provide an opportunity to have fun and let loose. Some guests may be uncomfortable at first, especially around unfamiliar faces, but ice breakers give them a chance to open up and relax.

Games like ‘Human Bingo’ in which you organise a grid with items like ‘speaks more than one language’ or ‘owns a yacht’ will show that your guests might have more in common than they first thought. Another simple ice breaker is to hand out slips of paper with years written on them, and have your guests share with everyone what they were doing in that year.

Food & Drink

What to serve on your menu


One of the most important points on any dinner party host’s checklist is what food and drink you are going to serve. This will depend on many factors such as the time of year, what foods are in season, your guests’ tastes, and whether you are having a casual or formal event. If you’re a foodie and love to cook, this is your time to shine and show off your culinary prowess for your guests’ enjoyment. Pick your favourite meal, but don’t forget that love is the secret ingredient.

Be sure to check with your guests beforehand of any dietary requirements. It’s also a good idea to prepare more food than you think you might need so that your guests can enjoy a second helping.

Prepare your food in advance


When the day arrives, prepare to be busy with preparations and final checks. So busy in fact that you’re going to need to be a step ahead. The best way to do this is to prepare your food in advance. Preparing your food the day before and either refrigerating or freezing it will ensure that your whole day is free to take care of the other matters that come with hosting a dinner party.

If you can’t prepare the meals ahead of time, try to prepare as much as you can by pre-peeling vegetables or arranging your cooking instruments so you’re ready to cook when the time comes.

You can also prepare appetizers to keep the hunger of early guests’ at bay, and put dinner in the oven once more guests start to arrive. This works well for foods like casseroles or bakes that you can pop in and put on a timer.

The importance of what you serve your guests for their main meal cannot be understated. The meal should complement your choice of atmosphere, be plentiful enough to satisfy your guests’ appetite, yet light enough to leave room for dessert.

What drinks/cocktails should you serve?


It’s good to be aware ahead of time of your guests’ drink preferences, which can be just as important as any dietary considerations they may have. Some of your guests may not drink alcohol, and there’s nothing worse than turning up somewhere without another option.

Make sure you have a range of drinks on offer for your guests, such as both flat and sparkling water, juices, soft drinks (pay particular attention to providing at least one diet option as well), teas and coffees. If you’re serving cocktails make sure there is also a mocktail option, so that sober guests can join in the experience of a delicious fruity beverage.

A good wine and food pairing will certainly be appreciated amongst your guests, but you don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to make an impressive selection.

The wine should always be more acidic than the food but sweeter and with the same flavour intensity. Red wines pair best with bold flavoured foods or fattier foods like red meat, whilst white wines pair better with lighter meals like fish and chicken.

Consider a dessert wine to serve after the meal, and always buy an extra bottle than what you think you’ll need - you never know how long your dinner party may last.

Cocktails are a fantastic choice for dinner parties, as there are thousands of creations you can choose from that suit any and all preferences. Having a well-stocked bar is a great starting point for dinner party cocktails as you can whip up a range of drinks depending on your guests’ requests.

Whether your guests have a penchant for a moody Dark and Stormy, a sophisticated Dry Martini or a classic Gin & Tonic, you’ll be able to add an extra shot of luxury to your party by providing elevated options.

The magic of aperitifs and digestifs


An aperitif is a light drink consumed before a meal for stimulate the appetite, and a digestif is a drink served after a meal to cleanse the palate and encourage a new chapter of the evening to begin. Aperitifs and digestifs are brilliant additions to elevate your dinner party, as not only do you get to show off more of your cocktail-making skills, but they also serve well to segment the different portions of the evening.

Common examples of aperitifs are still, dry, light white wine, dry sherry, Vermouth, champagne and gin. Common digestifs for after dinner include brandy, Madeira, bitter or sweet liqueurs like Kahlua and Jaegermeister, limoncello and ouzo or tequila.

How to entertain with Waterford


Dinner parties are a fantastic way to show off your style, culinary prowess and hosting abilities whilst enjoying the company of your guests all at once. Whilst there seems like a lot to do to throw an opulent, sophisticated dinner party, with some careful planning your night will be a memorable, lasting experience for your guests.

By now, you’re more than prepared to host your own dinner party; so it’s time to set a date and start working on those all-important checklists. And finally, don’t forget that the most important part of any dinner party is creating new memories and enjoying the company of close friends and family, so remember to relax and enjoy the evening as it unfolds.

A toast to the host. You've earned it.