A dinner party is best served with two groups of music, one for the cocktail hour and another to play during dinner. If pressed for time, you can make one selection suitable for dinner and also play this during the cocktail hour.
Instead of building a precise schedule of songs, the easiest solution is to create a playlist of your favorite music selections and let your computer or iPod shuffle the tunes.
For the cocktail hour, choose music to add to, and be a part of, the festivity. Like a cocktail party, follow these guidelines when selecting music for your playlist:
Select upbeat tempos for a light and happy mood
Mix genres to appeal to all tastes
Vary styles to add interest
Contrast artists for diversity and to avoid sameness
Interject humor and nostalgia for surprises & smiles
Choose tunes in the spirit of your theme
Avoid having an unbalanced number of songs by one particular artist or a single style of music.
During dinner, music is more about complementing the meal than directly entertaining your guests. Choose songs to provide an upbeat atmosphere, but in the background. Avoid music that grabs attention or with noticeable transitions within and between songs.
Also select upbeat tempos for a light and happy mood
Songs that flow into each other
A little slower than the cocktail hour, but not too much
In keeping with the theme
Soundtracks are a good addition (make sure the sound level matches the rest of your music)
Jazz and Retro-style lounge music
Avoid classical music which is too slow, causes people to be formal and stiff, and may make you look pretentious.