#1 The Guests
We like to think of dinners as casting a small performance for the benefit of the participants. The number should be no less than six or else the conversation could become one-dimensional or hijacked by a particularly insistent guest. The upper limit is determined by your capacity, but once you get over a certain level it becomes difficult to manage the interactions.
Try to mix areas of interest; bring new people so that the guest can expand their networks. It’s a bore to have everyone know each other or all be in the same business, but you do need a common thread — well-read, curious, funny.
The idea is that the guests will find each other so interesting there will be no conversational burden on you.
#2 The Meal
Keep it simple. Don’t go wild with a multi-course tasting menu unless you have professional-level cooking skills, in which case, go all out and have them talking about your food for years to come. Don’t try out something on your guests you have not tried yourself several times.
Cheat! Find a local prepared-food store that sells portions of delicacies that impress, but that you find difficult to manage. Toss the containers and the guests will never know.
If it’s a big spread with a sizable gang, consider getting some help. Your handy hipster neighborhood coffee shop is an excellent source of by-the-hour helping hands trained in services with a smile.
#3 The Libations
There is some disagreement as to whether cocktails or just wine should be served. We feel that, if kept out of the dipsomania range, a single cocktail pre-dinner followed by a nice wine with the meal is a good plan. Vodka, gin and, recently, tequila seem nice. For the wine, buy a case of a nice red, a case of a dry white, and then a case of Perrier. Any sparkling water is probably fine, Badoit for the more refined guests, but we find the shape of the bottle of Perrier sitting in the candlelight to be delightful.
#4 The Timing
Give consideration to things like transportation, weekday vs workday and local custom. If it is California, 7pm start is fine; if you are in NY, 8 pm; Spain, 10pm. If you are an Angeleno in Barcelona, get with the local program and eat late.
Give people a set time not only for when the dinner begins, but when it ends. Then when you kick out the last revelers, you can reference the invite. They need to leave as they have probably taken to repeating themselves and you would prefer to be asleep rather than politely listening.
#4 The Aftermath
Semi-tidy up just after the guests leave. Get rid of all the smelly cheese, fish and other odiferous offenders that you would rather not encounter in the morning light. Do some generalized tidying, but it’s been a long evening and the serious clean can wait for the morning.