How to Throw a Themed Dinner Party, According to NYC's Top Event Planner

As the holiday season nears, we have one thing on our mind: entertaining. Whether you're holding this year's Friendsgiving event, attending a New Year's Eve soirée, or simply hosting loved ones for an intimate dinner party (any excuse will do), a few small entertaining hacks can go a long way to turn your affair into an evening to remember.

As any host can attest, the hours leading up to a dinner party can be chaotic. To find out which entertaining tricks are worth your time, we called on top New York event planner Matthew Robbins. Celebrating the launch of The Art of Entertaining, Relais & Chateaux, we spoke to him just hours before guests arrived at a Great Gatsby–themed dinner party at boutique Hudson Valley hotel Glenmere Mansion. Below, watch Robbins put the finishing touches on the tablescape and discover his three tips for a truly memorable night.


Exclusive: Take a look inside a stunning Great Gatsby–themed dinner party, and find out the top three entertaining rules every hostess should know.

Posted by MyDomaine on Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Deciding which guests sit next to each other is crucial—and can make or break an event. To take the stress out of the seating plan, he recommends a fun solution. "This is a trick that Alan [the owner of Glenmere Mansion] introduced me to," he explains. "The host walks around with playing cards on a tray during cocktail hour, and guests are asked to take a card," he says. Each card corresponds to an identical playing card on each place setting, thereby mixing up where guests sit.

"What's so cool about that is that it adds a very democratic flow to the evening because it's not like Ooh, why did he put me next to so-and-so?" he explains. Couples are scattered across the table, and guests are encouraged to meet and mingle.

Robbins recommends a simple napkin-folding hack to make each place setting look a little more refined. Firstly, lay the napkin flat and fold the bottom edge two-thirds of the way up. "Fold the front piece down so you can see the two-toned napkin," he says; then tuck the left and right sides behind to form a neat pocket. "Sometimes we put the menu or a little sprig in there" for a finishing touch, he says. Watch Robbins's demonstration to see how it's done.

"The vase can be just as important as the flowers," he notes. "If you don't have [a set] and want to use plain glass cylinders, use three different sizes—a small, medium, and large. Group them in little families to create 'neighborhoods' on the table."

Unsure which flowers to choose? "If you're freaking out about how to do arrangements, keep it simple," Robbins recommends. "Choose one flower and add another interesting element, like a vine which adds a great shape. Let the flowers do the work for you," he says. 

Discover more entertaining tricks and tablescape ideas in The Art of Entertaining: