How to Plan a Wedding Dinner Party, Explained by Wedding Planners – AOL

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April 3, 2024 at 1:00 PM

Last year was the year of the anti-bride, with couples putting their own spin on weddings and throwing tradition by the wayside. That continues, as 2024’s trend forecast includes Western gothic influences, disco balls and the absence of bridal parties. Big, grand entertainment bonanzas are out; intimate and personal are in. And what’s a better way to bring things closer together than the wedding dinner party? Here, three wedding planners explain the concept and how to pull it off.

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What Is a Wedding Dinner Party?

A wedding dinner party might not sound that different from a reception, but it’s all about the execution. While the latter might often include things like a DJ and dance floor (cue the flash mob) in a big ballroom, the former is intimate with a focus on food and connection.

“Dinner parties tend to feel equal parts formal and comfortable,” Hall and Vanco explain. Valley adds, “[It] nods to the comforts of hosting loved ones at home—setting the table with special plates and napkins, dressing a room with soft candlelight and bountiful flowers, and cooking a dinner with love.” Wedding dinner parties are about comfort and intimate moments, a relaxed atmosphere and lots of lingering at the table over conversation, instead of barreling towards the dance floor with a brazenness only booze could fuel.

Estera Events/Kyle John Photo

How Many Guests Should I Invite?

The concept works well with fewer people—Hall and Vanco recommend a maximum of 50 guests. Now isn’t the time for a 300-person buffet reception. Remember: the dinner party is a personal experience. You want guests to feel like they’re coming to your home.

However, if necessary, it can be done with a larger party. This is where, Valley explains, you’ll need to lean into the thoughtful details.

“Creating smaller tables with less guests encourages more intimate conversations, and crafting a culinary experience rooted by a couple’s story all plays into a wedding dinner party experience,” she says. “Layering a place setting with artisanal plates, patterned napkins, and personal touches like hand-penned notes, photos, or a special recipe from the evening are all playful ways to lean into [dinner party].”

Valley & Co./Katie Mangold Photography

Where to Host a Wedding Dinner Party

It comes as no surprise that Hall and Vanco have planned many wedding dinner parties at clients’ homes—whether that be the childhood or vacation home, or a family estate. “Using somewhere where you had all of our childhood holidays can obviously add to the special feeling of the day,” they note. For those of us who may not have space to accommodate 50 guests at home, consider a private dining room or restaurant buy-out. In the winter, both planners say you can’t go wrong with a venue that has a fireplace.

“In warmer months, a lush outdoor garden or a stone terrace at a private property would be lovely settings for a wedding dinner party,” Valley adds. “Couples are increasingly seeking out unique, untouched landscapes—such as secluded fields or pristine natural settings—to host outdoor ‘wild feasts’ or construct bespoke venues for exclusive use, often just for a single evening. Sometimes these are in an expansive backyard; other times, they’re in far flung destinations to really complement the ambiance and sensory experience of the cuisine they plan to serve.”

Estera Events/Kristina Lorraine

How to Plan the Menu

A dinner party is an elevated affair, so consider doing a multi-course meal with beverage pairings, plus interactive offerings like tableside carvings, caviar service and mini cakes at each table, Hall and Vanco suggest.

You could also consider family-style service. “[It] can foster a more communal atmosphere and can be a unique bonding moment for every guest to savor each dish together,” Valley says. She also recommends incorporating a family recipe for a personal touch.

Valley & Co./Weiss Photo and Video

Creating the Ambiance

Of course, what’s a dinner party without ambiance? Hall and Vanco call this component “everything” when it comes to a successful wedding dinner party. “We will always opt for candles over brighter light,” they say, noting that the mini lamp trend also works well.

At receptions, it can be common for large floral arrangements to sit on every table, but Valley recommends having understated decor that won’t impede guests’ ability to interact with others. “[Keep it] low and minimal,” Hall and Vanco advise. Valley emphasizes that decor and tablescapes really benefit from intentional details. Think mismatched personal and vintage heirlooms or uniform, elevated items.

As for the tunes? “Music should match the environment and energy that you envision for your party,” Valley says. Hall and Vanco will often suggest the music escalate with the menu.

Ultimately, a celebration like this is about connection. “When you have a smaller guest list, you can really be intentional about your overall guest experience,” Hall and Vanco say. Some clients have written each guest a personal note and given custom artwork at each place setting.

“Unlike a traditional reception where the focus may be on grandeur and entertainment,” Valley observes, “wedding dinner parties are a great way to prioritize intimacy and connection amongst guests.”

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