Be it for a dinner party or a cocktail party, paper towels aren’t going to cut it. Sarah and Lydia at Apples and Onions in LA are huge fans of 100 percent cotton ones, like these hotel-quality napkins from Pottery Barn. They’re durable, look finished, and can be bleached should they collide with some red wine. If you want a monogram, go for white and you'll be able to use them for all your occasions.
Forget the traditional floral ones that your parents used. Live a little and add some style or humor under each guests’ appetizer by choosing napkins that will get guests talking, like some French Chick napkins from Etsy, or these “Drinks Well With Others” napkin from Mary Phillips. Or go green with something like this from MyDrap that you don’t have to feel guilty about throwing out.
While tapers and hurricanes are nice, if you’re going to have one kind of candle on hand, make it votives. A row of five can decorate the kitchen counter for a casual get-together, while 300 grouped in threes and scattered down a table is enough to light a dinner party for 30. And should one break over the course of the night, these clear glass holders are easier to replace than that antique, mercury glass pillar.
Be it for wine, juice, water, or a signature cocktail, if you’re throwing a party, you’re going to need something to drink from — and not those plastic Solo cups (that’s so college). Start with a set of simple glass tumblers that are multipurpose, like these from Crate and Barrel. Hosting dinners often? Invest in a set of wine glasses like these from Target that will work for both red and white wine, bubbles, and even some cocktails — and cost less than $9 a pop. Afraid of breaking glass? Then opt for plastic glasses (with style) from GoVino.
From passing hors d’oeuvres to arranging cheese, a good, multi-purpose tray is any host’s best friend. Start with something basic, like one of these handled lacquer trays from West Elm, that can even double as a coffee table when placed on a stool or a stack of books. A giant cutting board works as a serving board for cheese and charcuterie, and then doubles as a work surface when placed over the kitchen sink.
Small bowls like these from Gleena, or even simple ovenproof ramekins are a host’s best friend. Use them for olives and cocktail nuts, or for serving three kinds of dip with those homemade chips. They’re great for candy dishes or collecting used toothpicks and olive pits. And when you’re not hosting a party, use them for ice cream, puddings, or even a small snack of granola.
Don’t have a separate ice maker in your kitchen? Forget about loading up your freezer with trays of cubes — one is bound to spill, or worse, your ice may taste like whatever else is in there (gross). Invest in a good ice bucket, like this one from Macy’s that comes with its own set of tongs, then buy a bag or two of ice from the store. Entertain a lot? Consider purchasing a tub to chill down wine to leave more room in the fridge.
Even if you’re purely a gin and tonic kind of person, anyone who throws a party should have a multi-purpose corkscrew/bottle opener. It doesn’t have to be fancy — in fact, we prefer the style waiters use, as it’s compact and gets the job done. You’ll find them at your local liquor store for a couple of dollars (so get two in case one walks away), or this one from Sur La Table that has a comfy grip.
Having a pitcher full of cold water near the table is a dinner party detail that often gets overlooked. And when you’re knocking back a couple of drinks, you might not even realize you’re ready for water until it’s too late. This glass pitcher works for water, but can also be used every day for iced tea, OJ at brunch, or even as a vase for flowers.
Great hosts know that the party doesn’t end when guests walk out the door — they keep the memories of the night going by handing out a small favor at the end of the night. Be sure to have a box of individually wrapped chocolates on hand, like these Sand Dollars from Harbor Sweets, and cellophane bags and ribbon for packaging up anything homemade (like granola or cookies) or even gift sushi mats from that sushi rolling party you threw at home.
That dreaded awkward silence when sitting around the dinner table is any host’s nightmare. It doesn’t usually happen to us, but just in case, we always have a case of TableTopics at hand. There is a themed edition for every person (and every occasion), but we’re partial to the original version, as you always end up learning something new about every person at the table.
Playlist or Pandora, music goes a long way to creating just the right ambiance. Have an iPod? There is no need to invest in a new stereo — these Bose speakers offer unparalleled sound, last forever, pack enough of a punch to keep the neighbors up at night (don’t try it at home), and are completely portable. Then plug them into your laptop for work the next day.