This One Overlooked Detail Can Change the Vibe of Your Whole Party

It’s SO not what you think.

By Camille Styles
Throw a "Plus One" Party

photo by kate zimmerman-turpin

You know that feeling when you’re at a dinner party or seated at a long table with a big group at a restaurant, and you’re trapped into talking only to the person on your left or your right the entire night because everyone else is out of earshot? Maybe it’s just me, but in my personal experience that type of social scenario rarely leads to the most memorable or enjoyable conversations. Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to why some parties are just way more fun than others, and I’m realizing that it has less to do with the obvious things (like menu, flowers, or decor) and more to do with elements like how guests are seated. I’ve been testing out my theory and polling my friends on their own experiences, so read on for my modern-day approach to creating a party seating arrangement that fosters lively conversation and closer connection. I’d love to hear in the comments if you agree.

photo by wynn myers

1 – Get cozy.

My number one secret to a great dinner party is great conversation, and the quickest way to foster this is to gather your guests into cozy seating areas where they almost can’t help but enter into more intimate conversation. I’ve definitely been known to walk into a restaurant where they’ve pushed two tables together to accommodate my group of 8, and asked the waitstaff to remove one so we can all cram around a single table. It might sound crazy, but trust me that it is SO much more fun when everyone’s a little crammed together than spread out stiffly at a formal table.

photo by kristen kilpatrick

2 – Think beyond the table.

Who says a dinner party (or brunch or weekend barbecue) has to take place at a table? Consider gathering friends on the front porch swing, spread out on a backyard picnic blanket, on floor cushions tossed around the coffee table, or in adirondack chairs around a fire pit. Everyone can talk to everyone, there’s no shouting across the table, and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with friends breeds a familiarity that’s often reserved for family members and inevitably leads to silliness and laughter. And hopefully a little friendly debate since that’s another one of my great party requirements!

photo by kristen kilpatrick

3 – Create an intimate space.

Now that you’ve got your little space carved out, create intimacy by making it feel even cozier. Fill lonely corners around the space with potted plants or trees to create lushness. Toss throw pillows and soft blankets on chair backs or on the floor to encourage lounging.  Add warmth with flickering candles and a couple side tables or benches for people to set their drinks or snacks on. Make guests feel comfortable to kick off their shoes and stay awhile, and suddenly you’ve created a special party vibe that’s all your own.

photo by ashleigh amoroso

I’ll never forget the time that Adam and I hosted his company holiday party at our house the first year they were in business. We seated 15 employees and spouses for dinner around our dining table that typically seats 10 – everyone was crammed closely on benches, and we filled the center of the table with wood boards overflowing with cheeses, meats, bread, fruit, and open bottles of wine. With the flickering candlelight and music turned up a little too loud, everyone stayed late into the night and left feeling more like family than co-workers. The takeaway? Don’t worry about having the “perfect” setup or waiting until you have enough room to host a party – use what you’ve got and if your guests feel welcomed (and even a little cramped!) when they step through your doors, it’ll be an unforgettable party.