Host a dinner party like a pro

Mindy KorbinDo you panic at the idea of hosting a sit-down dinner at home? You are not alone. That is why we asked life style expert Mindy Kobrin for her tips on how to entertain like a pro.
Mindy Kobrin is a cooking, lifestyle, and entertaining expert. As the Development Director of Fundraising for the Princess Grace Foundation and HSH Prince Albert of Monaco II and The Princely Family, she planned hundreds of events and galas for distinguished international guests. But at home, her philosophy is simple and delicious: “Don’t Worry, Eat Happy.”  
Here is Mindy’s interview, full of easy entertaining tips:
DD: Can anyone throw a good dinner party, or do you need to hire a chef or caterer and have big apartment?
Yes, anyone can host a good dinner party with the right guide, planning tools, and positive attitude. Beforeinvitations go out, determine what type of gathering you want – formal or more casual.  Once decided, I suggest sending invitations three or four weeks in advance.

DD: What is the secret to good dinner party seating? How do you plan the guest lists?
MK: The most successful dinner parties encourage guests to mix and mingle with people they don't know well.  If possible, split couples up; seat opposite sexes next to each other; and seat guests of similar interests together to cultivate conversations.  I also like to place travel books or trivia coasters on the tables to stimulate early conversation between guests.  Music also plays a big role in creating ambiance and mood.  Have fun creating a playlist that best fits your party and menu.
DD: What is the optimal length of time for drinks before dinner? And what do you serve?
MK: To maximize budget and whet the appetite, serve cocktails for 30 to 45minutes before the meal.  Keep it to one themed signature cocktail plus wine and non-alcoholic options.  Set up a separate bar station with plenty of ice, cocktail napkins, and appropriate stemware.
DD: How do you handle tipsy guests?
MK: Make sure to have a car service, taxi, or designated driver available, and always serve coffee, tea, or sparkling water toward the end of a dinner party.
DD: With so many different diet restrictions these days from vegans to allergies, do have any favourite go-to dinner party recipes that everyone can eat?
With gluten-sensitivities and food allergies so widespread nowadays, offer options, or simply ask guests to make you aware of allergies on their RSVP.  I always include a seasonal salad and often a protein side dish, just in case. Quinoa is a great ingredient for either of those courses.
DD: Do you always serve a first course when you entertain? If so, what is it?
Depending on the dinner party theme, a starter is not necessary.  For example, an informal party of winter stew with Mesclun greens on the side and warm, crusty bread is perfect just the way it is – with a nice bottle of wine!
DD: What are your favourite desserts for entertaining?
MK: I like chocolate fondue with fresh fruit skewers, sautéed strawberries with mint, cake, or seasonal pies.
DD: What do you do when guests bring food or wine and expect it to be served?
MK: After many thanks for bringing foodie gifts, I love to pay it forward and express to that guest we'll be sure to use it at the next gathering!