The party flow is your schedule of movement and events which allow a change of scenery, rearrangement of the party guests, and more new and interesting details and surprises throughout the evening.
The most effective technique for “surprising” your guests is a complete change in scenery. The size and nature of a dinner party offers the ideal opportunity to create 2 or 3 different scenes to be revealed throughout the evening. Specifically:
Pre-dinner cocktail area
Dining room and table
When choosing each area, try to create as much contrast between each location as possible. If weather permits, setup one of the three scenes outdoors or on a porch.
Consider the arrival and flow of your guests so you can keep each decorated vignette hidden until time to unveil your creative secrets. Plan the entrance of your guests to bypass any areas that may be decorated for later.
For example, if you are serving cocktails by the pool, have the guests enter through the side gate to bypass the dining room. Be sure to place a sign at the front walk or door to direct them to the cocktail area.
If it is inconvenient to plan a diversionary route, turn off the lights and close the doors leading to the decorated vignette. When greeting or escorting your guests, face the decorated room and position your guest's back to later surprises. Move them through as quickly as possible.
An alternative is to have the elements ready to quickly set-up after the guests arrive, such as setting up an outdoor firepit with tiki torches and candles for after-dinner conversation.
Or you may choose to hide a decorated area, for example covering the dining table with a tablecloth. When covering, be sure to remove tall items, such as candlesticks and stemware.
Do not let any of your guests, including your helpers, in the other decorated areas until the moment of revelation.
Make an after-dinner plan based upon how long you want your guests to stay. To extend the party, create a separate venue for after-dinner drinks and/or dessert.
Alternatively, serve dessert at the table with coffee and cordials to wrap up the party shortly thereafter. However, you can further extend the evening by inviting your guests back to the cocktail area or another venue for after-dinner drinks and conversation.
Party games are not recommended.
Designate a place for gifts and umbrellas near the entrance. For a party with a guest of honor, separate the honorees gifts and cards from the hosts. Also, designate a place for coats, which may be in a separate room.
As the host, try to escort each guest to the cocktail area and get or facilitate each arriving guest’s first drink. This allows you a chance to introduce them, if necessary, to the group and offer your specialty drink of the evening upon arrival.
If someone is making cocktails, order their cocktails for them, otherwise, make it yourself. At this point, it is perfectly okay to tell them (with a smile) that you’ll get their first one, but after that they are on their own and help themselves.
Designate a place for gifts and cards
Select an area to put guests’ coats
Get or arrange each guest’s first drink
One thing you can count on is that virtually every one of your guests will visit your bathroom at least once during the party. A thorough cleaning is recommended for a dinner party, especially every bathroom.
The day before the party you will also want to remove any “interesting” prescriptions or medicines in your medicine chests.
To minimize potential embarrassment to any of your guests, you may want to make a few items available and easy to find in your bathroom, such as:
Extra toilet paper
Now that you know how your party will flow, the next step is to determine the party lighting.