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How to throw the perfect dinner party

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Two experts reveal their secrets to help you plan and host the perfect dinner party, from the moment your carefully selected guests arrive until they depart after a great evening

When local and international event company boss Francois van Tonder and his husband Jamie Robertson, owner of RoastingPlantUK, a tech-driven coffee shop on London Bridge, invite you for supper, you don’t say no.

The two know about entertaining and cooking, so you are bound to be spoilt with tastes to delight and a feast on the eye. Van Tonder, founder of Sorrento Events, tells us how to throw the perfect dinner party from start to finish.

Francois van Tonder and Jamie Robertson. Picture: Supplied

Guests: Ensure you have the right mix of guests. It’s not what’s on the plate, but what’s in the chair that counts. If the conversation doesn’t flow and the crowd doesn’t gel, you’ve made your biggest entertainment faux pax.

Decor: Your decor should never fight nor obstruct what is on the menu. Scented candles and heavily scented flowers on the table, for instance, influence how you taste your food. Keep table decor simple and chic and ensure nothing obstructs your guests’ view.

Never have a seating plan. Let people decide with whom and where to sit. People eat with their eyes, so set the table beautifully – silver cutlery, crystal glasses.

Make it as beautiful as possible even if your cutlery is mismatched. Keep it simple, unless the occasion calls for something OTT.

Use a tablecloth unless you have a great marble or wooden table. I like using beautiful linen napkins and cutlery and items from all over the world, or items such as my great granny’s ladle. Use items with stories you can tell at the table.

Cook local: Ingredients should be local, seasonal and organic. Family-style platters of food and al fresco are popular. It is all about simplicity and freshness. 

Always have a good bread on the table and the highest quality olive oil and nothing with preservatives. Introduce your culture and traditions on to the plate so people taste something different.

Find out about your guests’ food preferences and dietary requests and ask whether anyone is kosher or halaal. Try some vegan or vegetarian dishes; Yotam Ottolenghi has good recipes.

Keep it simple, but elegant, on the night, unless the occasion calls for something special. Picture: Monika Grabkowsk

Dress code: Always indicate the dress code upfront. There can be nothing worse for a guest than to arrive dressed casually while everyone else is dolled-up.

How the night can progress: It is all about prep, so do most of it the night before. Always ensure you have enough ice and ice buckets and drinks for everyone, including non-alcoholic. Guests are there to be spoiled so don’t ask for assistance (unless you have a close friend happy to assist).

Chilled champagne – hire champagne glasses if you must, although eclectic can work. I love serving a huge piece of Parmigiana cheese with champagne and small bowls or bite-sized foods – nothing messy, always elegant.

Play background music – to help put people in the mood.

Create different spaces for different things: have a section or separate room for canapes and pre-drinks, another for mains and desserts, with cheese and dessert wines on the balcony or back where you had the canapes.

Allow an hour for pre-drinks – it may help accommodate late arrivals. 


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