Every special moment in life deserves to be celebrated, whether small or a once-in-a-lifetime milestone—and what better way to do that than by hosting a party for all your loved ones? While we enjoy throwing together a spontaneous, casual event, certain occasions require more planning and a touch of sophistication. From Christmas dinner parties to bridal luncheons and so much more, create an unforgettable night of celebration with a plated dinner and a beautiful tablescape. Raise your glass and give a toast to the art that is planning a formal gathering!
Whether you've volunteered to host the annual holiday brunch or are looking for inspiration for your next dinner party, join us as we dive deep into the ins and outs of formal gatherings. Discover how to determine when an occasion should be formal, learn about serveware and recipes, and follow our seven simple steps as you plan your next formal gathering.
What is a Formal Gathering?
Formal gatherings are usually reserved for holidays, special occasions, and celebrations. They often have multi-course meals that are plated and brought to each guest at their seat. With a few added layers of dinnerware and an elevated serving style, any event you host can become a formal gathering with a little extra preparation.
Why We Enjoy Hosting Formal Gatherings
While there will always be a time and place for our beloved family-style gatherings, certain occasions demand a little more formality—and we love to indulge in that! Any event can be enhanced with a bit of planning, an inspired multi-course menu, and detailed tablescape touches. From setting a springtime table for Easter to toasting our loved ones over a momentous milestone, there are countless reasons to put extra time and love into hosting a formal gathering throughout the year.
Hosting a formal gathering gives us a reason to design an unforgettable tablescape, no matter the theme. In a formal table setting, we can show off thoughtful dinnerware designs and put our attention to detail to the test as we create every intricate place setting. From nostalgic holiday patterns to everyday dinnerware, every dish on a formal table can be hand chosen to set the tone for the occasion and inspire our loved ones to celebrate!
When Should You Set a Formal Table?
We tend to reserve setting a formal table for occasions that demand a beautiful celebration, such as a holiday dinner, wedding, or once-in-a-lifetime milestone. While casual gatherings can be planned spur-of-the-moment, formal gatherings require more preparation - that's why they aren't as common! When you want a celebratory tone and have the time, energy, and resources to plan one, the unforgettable tablescape and creative menu of a formal gathering set the mood for the atmosphere as soon as guests walk in.
7 Steps to Creating A Formal Gathering
Every step to hosting a formal gathering is essential, from choosing the table linens and color scheme to the perfect garnishes on each course. From choosing serveware to sending out invites, understanding the path to organizing a formal gathering can seem daunting. Consider these seven steps as you plan:Step 1: Choose the Purpose of Your Gathering
Understanding the intended purpose of your formal dinner can dictate everything, from the recipes you serve to how you design your table. Are you hosting your family's annual New Year's Day dinner? Are you looking to go the extra mile with a dinner party to celebrate an anniversary? Once you decide the purpose of your gathering, the designs and menu will fall into place.
Popular Occasions for Formal Gatherings:
- Holiday dinners
- Engagement parties
- Rehearsal dinners
- Romantic date nights
The party preparation timeline for formal gatherings takes more planning than a casual occasion. If you have the time to set aside, try to begin planning your dinner party at least 3 to 4 weeks in advance. Think of the fundamental questions—will your gathering be indoors or outdoors? Will you need any vendors or rentals? This way, you'll have plenty of time to arrange a menu, give your guests the details in advance, and see to every detail that goes into your event.
Other things to plan include the guest list, invitations, and a potential dress code. For instance, some sit-down dinners are held with a black-tie dress code, while wedding events may have a specific color scheme. When you send out the invitations a few weeks before, you give your guests plenty of time to plan and accept, helping you understand precisely how much food to prepare and place settings to lay out.Step 3: Choose Entertaining Spaces
Early in the planning process, you should decide where the gathering will be in your house and the additional entertaining spaces you'll need to prepare. No matter the occasion, to host a formal gathering, you will need a table (or multiple, if the guest list grows) that can fit all your guests. Every person in attendance will need a chair and a place setting at the formal table to accommodate every guest comfortably.
Most formal dinners are sat in your dining room, but you may decide to host outside during some seasons! Whether renting a tent for an outdoor rehearsal dinner or enjoying a nice summer breeze on your patio, planning to host your gathering outside means a little backyard tidying. Don't forget to add beautiful lighting to your space, whether candlelight or string, to keep the party going as the sun sets.Step 4: Choose a Serving Style
Formal gatherings typically use a plated serving style to set an elevated tone and enhance the presentation of each course. Rather than filling the center of the table with serving platters, all cookware will stay out of sight in the kitchen. Guests will remain seated throughout the night, and each course will be brought out on a new plate and served to them by the host.
For some formal dinners, you may decide to hire caterers to give you a helping hand! This helps take the pressure off you as the host, allowing you a hands-free night to sit back and enjoy celebrating with your company.Step 5: Create the Menu
Formal gatherings will always have multiple courses, allowing us to get creative with each round, from the mouthwatering appetizer to the delectable dessert. With a formal dinner, you can blend contemporary and traditional dishes for each course, featuring seasonal ingredients and fresh flavors to curate a memorable menu for any occasion.
Use the purpose of the gathering to influence the style of your menu. If you're hosting a traditional, sit-down Thanksgiving dinner, you'll need all the classics and some family favorites! If you're celebrating your engagement, devise a fun theme and plan each course around the foods you and your lovebird enjoy. Just because the tone of your gathering is formal doesn't mean you can't have fun with the menu!
How Many Courses Should a Formal Gathering Have?
Formal gatherings often consist of at least 3-4 courses, including an appetizer, main dish, and dessert. But don't limit yourself! Some sit-down meals can have as many as twelve courses. Depending on your culinary expertise and the reason for the occasion, you can personalize your menu to have however many courses you see fit.Step 6: Select Serveware
Serveware is less critical to the overall design of your formal gathering, as it will be kept out of sight of your guests. But, if your kitchen is centrally located, and there's a chance your guests may see the magic behind the curtain, pay attention to which serving dishes you use. For holidays, switch out your everyday dishes for seasonal serving platters and your hand towels for festive linens. Or carry the themes of the dining tablescape into your kitchen with matching pieces in the same vibrant colors.
As your event approaches, ensure you have the necessary cookware and serving bowls to cook and house every recipe on your menu. You wouldn't want to start cooking the day of and realize you're short a casserole dish or salad bowl! Don't forget to set a corresponding serving utensil aside for each recipe so serving individual plates will be a breeze.Step 7: Set a Formal Table
Formal gatherings are known for their grand table settings, from the florals used in the centerpiece to the dinnerware set out for each guest. Every course will have a plate or bowl, depending on the recipe, so that it can be filled at the serving area, brought back to the table, and then taken away, clearing the room for the next course. As you design your formal table, it's important to understand the basics of what should be involved so you can personalize it to be your own!
Formal table settings are the most intricate style, with each place at the table needing a placemat, napkin, dinner plate, salad or appetizer plate, soup bowl, glasses for water, wine, and cocktails, and designated utensils for each course. A charger plate is placed underneath the dinner plate for special occasions to give an elevated look. The dinnerware can vary depending on the details of your menu, so feel free to consider alternatives for salad plates and soup bowls.
The key to designing an unforgettable table setting for each formal gathering is focusing on the place setting. Set a bold color palate with cloth napkins, choose whimsical patterns, and use multiple textures to make the tablescape your own. Whether mixing and matching items from your favorite collections or setting out a cohesive dinner set from one of our collections, this part of the table setting is yours to curate for each event.
Favorite Dinnerware Sets:
Whether we're designing a cohesive look or trying to mix and match multiple designs, these dinnerware sets remain our favorites for many formal occasions:
- Signature White—a timeless classic base layer for any designs.
- Iris Blue—bring a bright blue to your sophisticated table.
- Layered Diamond—for a light blush with an intricate detail.
- Gold Star—features a sparkling accent at any gathering.
- Deco Gold—a signature scallop edge with a subtle pop of gold.
Don't Forget the Bells and Whistles
People say that love is seen in the little things, and that applies to formal gatherings, too! Show your attention to detail by adding fun extras to each formal table setting to make your guests feel welcome and appreciated. These special touches include:
Name cards—whether handwritten or printed, adding a name card to each place setting allows you to curate your seating chart and help guests easily find their designated spot. You can get creative with this - for example, instead of name cards for a Christmas dinner, you could personalize ornaments with their names for them to take home as a keepsake at the night's end!
Centerpieces—creating an unforgettable centerpiece, whether seasonal gourds and leaves for Thanksgiving or votive candles and flowers, helps set the tone for your formal gathering.
Mugs—invite your guests to linger around the table and offer them an after-dinner cup of coffee or tea served in your favorite collection of mugs that ties into your theme.
Inspiration for Formal Gatherings
As many formal gatherings center around personal milestones or favorite holidays, the inspiration comes naturally. When a celebration is for a certain friend or family member, we let them have a say in designing the formal table.
Drawing ideas from the seasons around us, whether the pastels and nature of springtime, the autumnal warmth of fall, or the cozy nostalgia of the holidays, helps us design every aspect of our seasonal formal gatherings and table settings. We love curating our gatherings for the special occasions of our friends and families, from engagement parties to Thanksgiving dinners and more.
Get a Closer Look at Some of Our Favorite Curated Formal Gatherings:
- Bright White and Blooming Bridal Party Luncheon
- Christmas Eve by Candlelight Gathering
- A Miss to Mrs. Merriment Gathering
Whether you've been hosting for decades or are a complete novice looking for advice, our seven steps to hosting a formal gathering make the perfect guide to creating an unforgettable celebration. Anything is possible with a little preparation, a multi-course menu, and a creative tablescape. From intimate dinner parties to extravagant holiday events, your formal event will leave you feeling inspired and full of beautiful memories to cherish.