I call them anchor tenants; their value comes from the simple fact that they are, in relation to one’s core group of friends, different.
Frankly, anyone who can add a little electricity to your dinner party is an anchor tenant. Journalists, I’ve found, are terrific anchor guests. They aren’t particularly well paid (which makes them a sucker for a free meal), their profession has a good deal of intrigue, they are always on the lookout for good material and see such dinners as a potential venue for new ideas, they’re generally good conversationalists, and many folks enjoy an opportunity to get their ideas heard by someone who might publicize them to a larger audience. Artists and actors, famous or not, fall into the same category. On those occasions when you can’t land as big a fish as you might have liked, you can try to pull in a person with proximity to power: a political consultant to an interesting politician, the COO of an interesting company under an interesting CEO, and so on. In these cases, it’s about brand association.
You see, there’s only one real rule to these get-togethers: Have fun. All right, there are a few other rules that might help you along the way. Among them: 1. Create a theme. There is no reason that a small dinner party should not have a theme. One simple idea can help you pull the food and atmosphere together.
2. Use invitations. While I’m all for slapdash impromptu parties, the dinner parties that will be most successful will be those you’ve devoted some time and energy to. Whether by phone, e-mail, or handwritten note, be sure to get your invites out early—at least a month in advance—so people can have a chance to plan accordingly—and so you’ll know who is and who is not coming.
3. Don’t be a kitchen slave. There’s no sense in a party being all work. If you can’t hire a caterer, either cook all the food ahead of time or just use takeout. If the food is good and the presentation snazzy, your guests will be impressed.
4. Create atmosphere. Make sure to spend an hour or two gussying up your place. Nothing expensive or out of the ordinary, mind you. Candles, flowers, dim lighting, and music set a good mood.
5. Forget being formal. Most dinner parties don’t call for anything fancy. Follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Silly). Good food. Good people. Lots of wine. Good conversation. That’s a successful dinner party. I always underdress just so no one else feels they did. Jeans and a jacket are my standard fare, but you judge for yourself.
6. Don’t seat couples together. The essence of a good dinner party lies in seating everyone properly. If you seat couples together, things can get boring. Mix and match, putting people together who don’t know each other but perhaps share an interest of some kind. I like to set placeholders where I want people to sit. Each placeholder is a simple card with the guest’s name on it. If I have the time, I love to put an interesting question or joke on the back of the card that guests can use to break the ice with one another. Or you can go out and buy funny greeting cards just to make things interesting.
7. Relax. Guests take their cues from the host—if you’re having fun, odds are that they will, too. The night of the party, your job is to enjoy all the fruits of your labor.
Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi, Tahl Raz