I’m personally relieved with the news that a dinner party at-home doesn’t have to be Pinterest-worthy (I’ve never been one to stock the perfect paper straw hand-rolled by non-profit artisans from Portland, per se). “I think people get really lost in copying a Pinterest board when a dinner party is really about great food and great people,” says Abigail Van Den Broek who’s a pro in the know. After all, she’s a #prBoss at The Drake Hotel.
Also a new mom (her daughter Madeleine is only 13 months old), Abigail is still wearing her training wheels when it comes to meshing motherhood and her career. “I have so many feelings about ending my mat leave…I’m wondering how my daughter is doing all day but I’m also happy to be back at work,” she says. “One thing’s for sure. You really have to pick and choose what you do with your time.” And part of her new life with baby is simplifying the art of the party.
Abigail’s Easy and Impressive Dinner Party Tips
Don’t stress about swagging out a room. “I collected a lot of vintage plates for my wedding, then I paired it down to a place setting for 12. It’s an easy and affordable way to make a table look fun and interesting. For lighting, I use candles and turn on various levels of light in the house except for overhead, fluorescent and halogen lights which are unflattering and uncomfortable for everyone. I’ll fill small vases with small flowers or branches and a trick I steal from the hotel is serving food on stacked books to add more personality and levels to a table.”
Make simple instead of elaborate dishes and drinks to impress people. She stacks her bar with plenty of wine, one non-alcoholic drink that’s not just plain water and if she has the time, she’ll create a serve yourself bar where guests can whip up one special cocktail for the night like a Manhattan or a Caesar. About the menu she says: “At the hotel, chef Alexandra Feswick believes in letting the food speak for itself. She makes it a big priority to focus on the best, seasonal and fresh ingredients to make something beautiful.”
Send a formal invite (not a text). “Any will do whether it’s a Paperless Post note, a quick email or if you have the time, send a paper invite…that’s a really beautiful touch. However you send it, an invitation makes people feel like they’re a special guest and it makes it easy for them know what to expect from what time it starts, what to wear and who else is going to be there. Another way to be a really good host is to mail a paper thank you. It’s nice to send the people you love something real and tangible to show your appreciation.”
Be mindful of the timing. “Especially when kids are invited, be considerate of nap times and bed times. If it’s a casual after-work dinner, have the food ready 20 minutes after your guests arrive so no one has to be stressed out about getting home in time for bed. Plan a drop-in birthday party between 1 to 6 pm instead of a narrow two-hour window which makes it harder for guests to work around necessary naps. For a grown-up dinner, I invite my friends after Madeleine is in bed and that let’s me relax and enjoy the evening too. I also find Wednesday nights are usually a good bet because most people are already busy on the weekends; and months that aren’t as jam-packed with competing holiday parties and events are October, November, February, March and April.”