How to Host a Semi Formal Dinner Party

Hosting a semiformal dinner party is a nice change from casual entertaining, giving you a chance to show off your best table settings, try out elegant recipes and host your friends in a more formal setting. To ensure everyone has a good time and enjoys the dinner party, follow traditional guidelines of semiformal dinners for a party that will impress your guests.

Send invitations in advance to your guests. For a semiformal party, anytime between one and three weeks beforehand is OK to send out invitations. These don’t have to be overly formal, specially printed cards. They can be handwritten notecards or printed at home, if you’re clever with your computer and printer. They should, however, include the time, date, place and attire you are requesting. Also be sure to specify “& Family” or “& Guest” if children or dates are welcome. Give a phone number or email address so guests can RSVP.

Be sure you can set a semiformal table. You should have a linen tablecloth and enough napkins, matching dishes, glasses and silverware for all the guests. These should include dinner, bread and salad plates; dinner and salad forks; butter and dinner knives; soup and dinner spoons; dessert utensils; cloth napkins; water and wine glasses; and a coffee cup, saucer and spoon. See the Resources section for a diagram if you are unsure of placement.

Go beyond the ordinary when setting the table. Look for accents that will please guests on the table and in the dining room. Place vases of fresh flowers on side tables, or adorn the dinner table with a row of small bud vases. Use crystal, porcelain or other special candlesticks or holders with candles in a color that complements your linens. Don’t forget practical accents like water or iced tea pitchers, pretty salt and pepper shakers, or coordinating place mats and napkin rings.

Plan your menu. You may want a pre-dinner period of socializing with cocktails available; many hosts like to provide a signature cocktail. Three courses are traditional for semiformal dinners: the salad, the entrée and the dessert. The first consists of salad or appetizer, and sometimes soup. Bread or rolls should also be served. The main course includes another round of bread, the meat and side dishes such as vegetables, potatoes, sauces and relishes. Dessert is served after everyone is done eating, often after a short interval of conversation and drinks. Coffee is also generally served with dessert.

Check everything twice before the dinner starts. Make sure there is enough ice ready, serving dishes are warmed if needed and there is room in a hall, closet or spare room for guests’ coats. Tidy up areas of your home that guests will see; don’t leave clutter lying around, and check bathrooms for cleanliness and fresh hand towels. Be sure you have enough food and drink for everyone, as it's much better to have leftovers than have guests go home hungry.