There's a lot to think about when it comes to hosting a dinner party. Have you devised a decent menu? Did you stock up on enough vino? Will the guests notice that big stain on the hall carpet?
Etiquette probably comes quite far down your list of priorities when you're trying to remember what time you put the dauphinoise potatoes in or where you stored the posh wine glasses.
But according to etiquette expert and coach William Hanson, a great guest list, convivial atmopshere and proper table manners will get your evening off on the right note - even if your cuisine isn't quite Michelin-starred.
1. DO invite the perfect mix
“Ideally you want a balance of personalities. If you have two very outgoing, gregarious friends then perhaps best not to invite them to the same dinner, or if you must then seat them apart at opposite ends,” says William.
“Similarly, if you have a few very shy and retiring friends then don’t seat them together unless you want a vacuum of conversation halfway down your table.
"The guests do not need to have met each other ahead of the dinner, but they should have something in common with each other so they will be able to gel.”
2. DO get the seating plan right
Married couples and couples who are as good as married can be seated apart (“not at totally different ends of the table, but certainly not next to each other”, says William), but keep new couples together.
“You can seat the guests next to strangers - but make sure there is common ground so they get along - or next to people they already know,” he adds.
3. DON’T forget your table manners
Table manners are vital. "Anything that distracts from good conversation and the conviviality is to be avoided,” William explains.
The big no-nos? “Elbows on the table, eating with your mouth open, talking with food in your mouth, helping yourself to something before refilling or offering to the people either side of you, and not returning the hospitality.”
4. DON’T serve anything too complicated
“Finger food or food on the bone is asking for trouble, and you will get the one guest who starts to carve into the food like they are performing an autopsy - which is pretty grim…”
5. DO create the right ambience
“Dinner parties should be about the atmosphere and having a good time, not about guests enjoying haute cuisine - programmes like Come Dine With Me have somewhat distorted people’s perspective on this,” says William.
6. DON’T panic if things go wrong
“Good hosts will pre-empt things going wrong, although burned food is often hard to predict - unless you are a useless cook, in which case invite guests to a restaurant of your choice - where you pick up the bill - or have it catered,” William adds.
7. DO deal with drunken guests
“If you notice a guest beginning to get a bit merry, then remove the bottle from the table and pour them some more water before it gets out of hand.”
What are your dos and don'ts for dinner parties? Let us know in the Comments section below.