Streamline Your Menu
If you're doing the cooking and hosting yourself, keep the menu simple: three courses, including at least one prepared completely in advance. If you're sweating in the kitchen through the entire cocktail hour, your guests will be left to fend for themselves—not to mention you'll likely be frazzled. If you have to get fancy with the food, try cohosting with a friend. That way, you can prepare to the meal while he or she works the pre-dinner drinks session. Once everyone's seated, you each can hold court of one end of the table, ensuring that all goes smoothly.
Balance Out Your Guest List
Unless it's a hen or bachelor party, we're in favor of having an equal number of men and women. That said, it's not a strict rule. As Amy Vanderbilt herself said, "It's far better to have an extra man or woman than to ask someone on the dull side just to make the number even." Amen.
Alternate Seating Rules
When it comes to seating your guests, we're in favor of mixing things up. You don’t necessarily have to abide by the boy-girl-boy-girl setup, but you should at least be sure to split up couples or best friends. The point is to get people talking to people they don't already know.
Keep Things Low
Centerpieces and floral arrangements (pick up some budget-friendly tips here) are all well and good, but extreme height is not. You want your guests to be able to look at each other. And if you're a candle kind of person, make sure they're unscented. No one wants sweet floral notes mixing in with that beautiful roast chicken.
Have an Activity Up Your Sleeve
It’s OK if the conversation lulls a bit. This's why a soundtrack is important. Put together a playlist of some of your favorite artists—you want something low-key, no Iggy Pop, please—and let it roll throughout the evening. When things start winding down at the dinner table, have an activity ready. Bring them into another room for an after-dinner drink to listen to music or play cards. Games are a great way to connect people who don't already know each other.
Raise a Glass
And here's one to grow on: Let's bring back the toast, shall we? It's festive, it makes your guests feel special, and dagnabbit, it shows class. So prepare something short and sweet in advance, clink that glass, and deliver your message with a smile. We promise, your guests will remember it fondly.