Planning a dinner party that friends will be talking about for days can be stressful. That's where actor, chef and certified entertaining expert David Burtka comes in. He loves cooking for hubby Neil Patrick Harris and their two kids, and David even has a new book out called Life Is A Party — which is full of his favorite tips and tricks for hosting the perfect event.
Want a sneak preview? David visited our show to share some dos and don'ts for hosting your next dinner party, and we're breaking them down below.
1. DO Make a Seating Chart
"Everybody thinks this is only for weddings… No!" Rachael says. "It's actually what you should [always] do when you're entertaining."
David agrees, and he has a fun suggestion. Instead of printing each person's name only on one side of the placecard, include it on both the front and the back. That way, the person sitting across from them will see their name, making it easier to start up (and continue!) a conversation.
2. DON'T Seat Couples Together
"You see your spouse or your boyfriend or girlfriend all the time," David says, "so why not spread the love?"
He suggests putting your most extroverted guest right in the middle of the table, with the most charming guest seated directly across the table from them. "These people are going to pull the party energy to the front," David says.
"Put the introverts on the end, where they feel nested with the host and the hostess," Rach adds.
And if you have guests with similar interests or professions, make sure to spread them out, too. That way, everyone has the opportunity to learn something new throughout the course of the night.
3. DON'T Have a Signature Cocktail… Pack a Punch Instead!
Punches are great, because unlike a signature cocktail, you don't have to make up individual glasses for each guest, David explains. A premade punch is budget friendly, beautiful to look at and your friends can serve themselves.
"It's an activity!" Rach points out.
4. DO Get Creative With Ice
Using a bundt pan to make a ring of ice for your punch can lead to problems — the ring might not fit in the bowl or it could take up too much room, leaving less space for the alcohol.
David's solution? Recycle old take-out or deli containers!
Fill and freeze the plastic cups for blocks of ice that are just the right size — and last longer. To make your punch bowl even prettier, add fruit to the water before freezing. David puts lemons and cranberries in his blocks!
Once the ice is in the bowl, he adds a bottle of vodka, lemon juice and a simple syrup made of cranberries, sugar, cloves and cinnamon. Even though the cocktail is cold, the syrup gives it a warm flavor that is perfect for winter parties.
Finally, top it all off with champagne and garnish with additional lemon slices and cranberries.
"It's a party that packs a punch!" Rach says.
5. DO Create a Living Tablescape
"During the party or during the dinner, before or after, you can eat the tablescape," David says of this idea. His example includes edible pears, pomegranates (cracked in half), nuts — don't forget nutcrackers! — and herbs.
"My mother always said a garnish should be edible and everything you see at a party should be," Rach says.
Finish your living tablescape off with flowers and candles — which, although not edible, will look great. You can change up your table runner to reflect the season — decorate with peaches and figs in the summer, for example.
With these tips in mind, make sure you don't forget about lighting or music. A carefully curated playlist can really help set the tone for the entire evening!