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The Aperol Guide to the Perfect Dinner Party

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Pulling off a memorable dinner party is a triumphant achievement for any home cook. Balancing the tasks of playing host while preparing a meal and entertaining in your humble home is no easy feat. From tips on how to set a table for dinner party guests to choosing a delicious menu, we’ve compiled a guide to the perfect dinner party. 

Curate a compatible guest list

Tackling some of the logistical elements is the first step. Establishing your guest list and sending out invites well in advance of your dinner party date is key.

How many guests can you comfortably host in your home? Do your guests already know each other or will there be a mix of old and new friends in attendance?

It’s always lovely to entertain close friends and family who are already familiar with each other, but don’t be afraid to mix it up. Dinner parties can provide a wonderful opportunity to create new acquaintances among different friend groups. Make sure to include one or two guests you can trust to help keep the conversation going, particularly while you are busy with food preparation. 

Once you have an idea how many and who you want to invite, you can focus your planning efforts on the dinner details and overall vibe you’d like for the dinner party. 

 

Get inspired and choose an aesthetic for the evening

Choosing a theme for your dinner party need not be too on the nose. Rather, you can take inspiration from an era, a place, or a cuisine and infuse it into your dinner party design. 

A cohesive theme can provide direction on everything from decor to menu to signature cocktail. It also gives guests an idea of what to expect and creates excitement and intrigue. 

Not sure what direction to take? We may be biased, but Italians are well known for bringing people together through food and drink. While different regions bring a unique flavour to the table, Italy is a rich source of inspiration for casually sophisticated social gatherings. 

 

Create a dinner party menu

Using your theme or inspiration as a guide, put together a menu that you can execute for a crowd “liscio come l’olio” (smooth as oil). Think about which items you can prepare in advance or how you can set up your ingredients the day of the event.

That means whatever needs to be chopped is already chopped, make-ahead items like sauces or dips are ready to go, and you have everything you need so that the final preparation is simple, leaving you with more time to engage with your guests.  

A great way to welcome guests as they arrive is to serve an aperitivo. The word aperitivo originates from the Latin aperire which means “to open.”  A quintessential staple of Italian happy hour, an aperitivo is a pre-meal drink that essentially prepares the stomach before a meal. It also eases guests into dinner party mode without being overly alcohol-forward. 

 

Aperol Spritz: The classic aperitivo

Since the 1950s, the ritual of aperitivo has been traditionally observed with a classic Aperol Spritz. With its distinctive bright orange hue and refreshing mix of bitter, sweet, and bubbles, the Aperol Spritz is an excellent signature cocktail to start your dinner party on the right note. 

The ratios of the perfect Aperol Spritz are 3-2-1. That is 3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Aperol, 1 part soda water. Aperol Spritz is best served in a stemmed wine glass, with ice, and garnished with an orange slice.   

Wondering what to serve for an Italian dinner party? Keep the Venetian inspiration going and serve some cicchetti (pronounced chi-KET-tee) alongside your aperitivo. Cicchetti are small bites that are typically made with seasonal Venetian ingredients. Popular cicchetti include crostini topped with fish, meat, or vegetables. Another common cicchetti dish is fried meatballs called polpette.  

 

How to set a table for a dinner party

Setting la tavola for your dinner party should favour function over flair. Elaborate place settings and dramatic floral arrangements, while beautiful, can be intimidating and can interfere with guests’ ability to eat, drink, and talk with ease. 

Have water (still and sparkling, if possible) and wine available on the table. Cloth napkins are an elegant and sustainable way to dress up place settings. Not sure how to fold dinner napkins for a party? With a few simple folds you can turn a square dinner napkin into a handy angled pocket for silverware. Set places with cutlery and plates in advance. And don’t forget to have some music playlists lined up!

Curious how to bring some Venetian style to the table? Think deep, rich colours (orange, blue, and gold) with an emphasis on patterns (terrazzo or mosaics), textures (silk, damask, or velvet), and the play of light and shadow (candles or ambient lighting). 

Feel free to mix and match modern and traditional elements – you want a vibe that is refined but accessible.  

 

What to wear to a dinner party

Unless you are hosting a very formal event, avoid dictating a dress code. This is where communicating the event inspo ahead of time can help set the tone for guest attire. 

As host, dress for cocktail casual. Your outfit should be put together but still comfortable. Options might include a soft knit shirt and jeans or a cotton shirt dress. Don’t forget the apron while cooking to avoid any splatter-related stains.  

 

What time should a dinner party start?

Generally speaking, dinner parties should begin after 5:00 pm. If hosting on a weeknight, you may want to consider scheduling your event a bit later to give guests a chance to shake off the day first. A good rule of thumb is to set the arrival time for approximately 30 minutes after weekday rush hour traffic ends.

Ideally dinner parties are scheduled on Friday or Saturday nights. Your guests will appreciate not having to worry about getting up early the next morning. That way they can enjoy that extra aperitivo with their ciccetti as the perfect way to embrace the weekend.  

 

Simplicity is key to planning the perfect dinner party 

Hosting a dinner party is a great way to celebrate the rituals of food and drink that bring us together. It takes a bit of work to plan a successful dinner party event, but as this guide will attest, keeping it simple is the way to go.

As the Italians say, everything you need in life can be summed up as:  buon cibo, buon vino, and buon amici (good food, good wine, and good friends).


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