Elevating a dinner party from standard to show-stopping is all in the details, and needn’t involve blowing your entire Christmas budget on magnums of French champagne.
Give your summer cocktail party or Christmas feast a dash of pizzazz by focusing on little touches with major impact. The ideas below tick all our entertaining boxes: they look a treat, add to the ambience and offer both practicality and panache.
1. Create a cocktail for the occasion
Nothing gets a party started like a cocktail (or two) on arrival. Greet guests with a festive tipple that ties in visually with your theme and incorporates Christmassy ingredients: think the jewel tones of pomegranate seeds or anything mixed with bubbly. Don't trust your cocktail-making abilities? Why not splurge on a mixologist for the occasion - it's sure to wow your guests and gives you one less thing to think about, because really, you should be drinking the cocktails, not making them.
This time of year is the perfect chance to update your glassware, too. Choose something sleek and contemporary or vintage-inspired, depending on your theme, and embellish with festive accessories like patterned paper straws.
2. Light candles for atmosphere
Dining by candlelight creates intimacy and a sense of occasion, but the flickering flames aren’t just for the table. Place strategically throughout your entertaining area to continue the mood and by the front door to envelop guests in a festive scent from the moment they walk in (provided it's in sight for safety). The Night Before Christmas Dancing Sugar Plums candle by Glasshouse Fragrances has a decadent aroma reminiscent of Christmas pudding to whet everyone’s appetite. And always place a matching diffuser in the bathroom.
3. Make a killer party playlist
Music makes a dinner party, so don’t leave your playlist to the last minute. Consider your outdoor speaker situation if the majority of the night is set under the stars and opt for a set-up that you can control easily via your phone, so you can change the music to match the mood.
4. Consider your courses
Swap main meals for share platters – they’re less formal than individual courses and an easy way for guests to break the ice. Start with canapés or roaming entrees with cocktails while guests mingle, and serve dessert away from the table too – perhaps outside around a fire pit if space permits.
5. Give festive treats
What's a Christmas party without presents? Placed on individual plates or piled up in a bowl for guests to help themselves to – the added bonus of this approach is it doubles as a Christmassy centrepiece - bonbonniere are a thoughtful touch that guests will appreciate. We love gifting miniature hand creams or candles in the same scent as those lit around the home to serve as an olfactory reminder of the occasion - try the limited edition Glasshouse Fragrances Christmas 2016 collection.
6. Dress up your table
“Pattern is enjoying a revival right now, so mix and match your servingware,” says marie claire lifestyle editor Clare Patience. “Nothing says celebration like a fun mix of florals and spots or stripes in your dinner plates and bowls.” Just ensure you marry it all together by sticking to one colour throughout.
Even cutlery can add to your table's decorative effect. Toss out the traditional notion of a silver-plated cutlery set and instead splash out on the gleaming gold and rose gold versions currently lighting up our Instagram feeds. West Elm has a gorgeous set in gold.