Worst Dinner Party Ever - Learn from My Mishaps!

It’s been a few weeks since I threw The Worst Dinner Party Ever. If you were there, you know what I mean. If you weren’t, consider yourself spared!

What am I talking about? I’m talking about an endless evening for a very small group (short notice) that was more like the Bataan Death March than anything resembling a night of entertainment. Where shall we begin & what can you learn from this misadventure??

Lesson #1: ANIMAL CONTROL. If you have pets & they’re not the mellow kind, think about whether it would make sense for them to go elsewhere during the party.

Dogs & parties weren’t tricky in our old house but in close quarters it can be hard!

Dogs & parties weren’t tricky in our old house but in close quarters it can be hard!

I know this sounds sacrilegious, but let me set the stage for you: as my husband & I were scurrying around trying to get someone a drink and/or not burn what was in the oven, our fanciest (& lovely!) guest politely let us know that our 14 year old cockapoo had just urinated in front of her in the Living Room, so perhaps it needed to be attended to. YES. That really happened. Not tragic, but kind of soul-sucking, don’t you think?? And our dogs barked the entire time during the party.

LESSON #2: MASTER THE ART OF FLOW! As you may know, I moved from a big house in the suburbs to a tall, skinny (read: SMALL) historic rowhouse closer to downtown DC about 16 months ago. I thought nothing of having a party for 30+ people at our old house & as you can see below, the setting was pretty easy for this kind of crowd…


My old Living Room flowed easily from the Dining Room and on into the Sunroom…


The Sunroom connected to outside deck with more seating/mingle areas….


The Family room was open to the kitchen which was great for serving…


….and the Family Room also had extra seating. That was then.

SO — kind of different now: our first floor is probably 20% the size of our old first floor. How do you entertain well in that space? I thought I had good idea but nothing went quite as planned….I did my usual, laying everything out the day before — purposely having real plates so people could eat on their laps, with napkin roll-ups all ready to go…

One key problem I realized as the night wore on was that I should have had people serve themselves in the kitchen, as I had trouble traipsing with hot dishes of food from the Kitchen through the Living Room (full of people) to the Dining Room nook. I thought it would be kind of declasse to serve from the tiny kitchen but it would have been easier all around (& food wouldn’t have gotten cold so quickly!).

Our kitchen in Georgetown as it looked when we first moved in — sparkling clean:)

Our kitchen in Georgetown as it looked when we first moved in — sparkling clean:)

So, focusing more on realities of where people would gather & letting go of my hang-up about serving in the kitchen would have given much better flow. Duly noted for next time!

LESSON #3: DON’T CUT CORNERS ON BAR PREPARATION. My husband was in charge of the bar, and had it stocked with plenty of wine (red, white + rose), bourbon & non-alcoholic drinks.

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When I asked him if we should add beer, he confidently replied “Nah, none of my friends drink beer.” First guest to arrive, one of his lifelong closest friends, Dave, put down his coat & said, “I’ll just grab a beer.” Awkward pause. Yes, the good times were rolling at this party!:)

LESSON #4: MUSIC REALLY DOES SET THE MOOD. Again, more technical snafu’s here….we use Sonos & have it piped in throughout the house. Which is GREAT when the Wi-fi works….but on the eve of this little soiree, it was fussy. So my husband spent 50% of the party not exactly talking to our guests, but instead trying to hack into our own sound/wi-fi system (below is how it looks today - I am actually waiting for Comcast appt. as we speak!)…


Did I mention that most of our guests didn’t really know each other very well? So having the host & hostess AWOL as we manned various calamities (wrangling dogs, reheating cold entrees, checking the wiring of the Sonos devices), was not exactly hospitality at its best.

LESSON #5: WALK BEFORE YOU RUN. In retrospect, I should have had a couple of easier, “practice” parties with just 1-2 couples before going for a larger crowd.

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In my mind, because we entertained so easily in our old set-up, I didn’t think having a dozen people over would be a big deal. But it’s a totally different space & it takes some time to figure out different logistics. I get it now!:)

FINAL LESSON: KEEP TRYING! Just because you flame out in one party does not mean you shouldn’t keep improving the entertaining formula. With Spring finally here, I’m going to experiment with having people over in our (teeny tiny) back terrace. The adventure continues!


If anyone has tips for entertaining in urban setting or smaller spaces, I’m all ears. I have a bajillion decorating and entertaining books, but none of them seem to speak to this issue. Please let me know if you have any suggestions! (Lee@ElegantMayhem.com)

Here’s to happy Spring gatherings wherever you are!!


My HomeLeland Prince