6 things you must do when hosting formal parties at home – according to hosting experts

Avoid these six hosting faux pas if you want a formal gathering, hosts urge

A formal dinner table set with autumnal decor
(Image credit: Sophie Allport)

When we host at home, we are usually informally inviting our friends or family to spend some relaxed time together. As such, we rarely need to outfit our spaces for a formal event – but how do you switch things up and host a large formal gathering at home? 

When the occasional calls for it, be it for work or networking, it is essential to know the difference between setting up a formal and informal gathering, especially when hosting in our own homes. Failing to set the right tone is one of the biggest hosting faux pas and can leave the wrong impression on your guests, experts warn. 

These are the six things to do when hosting formal parties at home to ensure your sophisticated evening gets off without a hitch, according to hosting experts. 

How to host formal parties at home

From the things people who love hosting always have in their homes, to how to get a kitchen ready for hosting, these six tips will prove invaluable the next time you need to create a formal atmosphere in an otherwise intimate space.  

1. Define distinct hosting areas

modern japandi kitchen with large dining table

(Image credit: Emily Lauren Interiors / Photography Madeline Harper)

When hosting in your own home it is important to define some key areas for welcoming guests, dining, and relaxing after the meal. This helps the evening to flow more smoothly, and can even encourage better interaction between your guests, begins Sarah Klingman, founder and CEO of Mostest

One of the best ways to do this is to rearrange furniture before hosting a crowd and use furniture or decor to guide people through your home, Sarah suggests, being sure to avoid blocking key walkways to avoid congestion in hallways or entryways. You should also never underestimate the power of a closed door. Keeping areas you would rather guests avoid shut off will usually be enough to keep your formal gathering in your assigned rooms. 

You might need to move furniture to do this and accommodate guests – especially when catering for larger groups, Sarah adds – ‘Adequate seating and space for dining and socializing are essential.’ 

2. Rent, don’t buy

colourful place setting with layers of patten on pattern

(Image credit: Future / Carolyn Barber/ Kate French)

More often than not formal gatherings at home are the exception, not the rule, so it can be helpful to rent decor or tableware – especially if you do not have the space to store it when not in use, says Hannah Fuchigami, hosting expert and owner of Picnic Party Seattle:

‘We love to go out and shop, but when you're hosting a group larger than about 8, storage becomes a big hassle. What are you going to do with those vintage tea cups afterward? Look to local businesses to provide the extra quantities you need. 

‘Another bonus of renting: less dishes and laundry for you! My favorite items to rent to make a big impact – cloth Napkins (usually less than $1 each to rent!), flatware, and fun glassware, for instance.’

3. Opt for high-quality everything

Thanksgiving centerpiece ideas with pine wreath filled with candles

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

While an informal gathering can get away with the occasional disposable dish or tray and a more affordable tablecloth for a children's dining table, higher-quality materials, and dinnerware sets are best for a formal gathering to help set the right tone, suggests Sarah Klingman, hosting expert. 

‘High-quality matching sets of plates, glasses, and utensils are crucial for the formal tone. If necessary, renting additional items can maintain the aesthetic. Choose serve ware that is both practical and decorative to enhance the event’s elegance.’ 

4. Hire help

Pink kitchen with a butchers block for an island

(Image credit: Ellei Home/deVOL)

When hosting a formal gathering, especially for large amounts of people, it is important to know when to hire in help, reminds Vinjay Goel, event planner at Bite Catering Couture:

‘If this is a larger gathering, the worst thing for a special evening is to run yourself ragged before, during, and after the event. Get the right help to relax and enjoy the evening, whether that is a caterer, staffing company, planner, rental company, cleanup crew, etc.’ 

5. Understand place settings

A spring setting tablescape

(Image credit: Rebecca Udall)

One of the biggest differences between an informal and formal gathering is the way you set a table. An informal gathering might have a buffet, or food in the center of the table for people to help themselves. For a formal gathering, however, a pre-set plate is more suitable. As such, it helps to learn how to set a table for any occasion.

For instance, a formal gathering with multiple courses laying out silverware in the right order and ensuring all of your guests have what they need when they sit down will help the meal and the conversation flow more freely. 

6. Stick to one consistent theme

summer tabletop place setting with relaxed tied linen napkin

(Image credit: Emma Lee / Ali Brown)

Be it a sit-down dinner or hosting a cocktail party, the key to a formal gathering is setting one consistent atmosphere. This doesn't need to be tense or stuffy (formal can still be cozy and intimate, after all) but choosing more refined music set to a low level to underscore conversation, picking uniform decor for your tablescaping and home, and setting the mood with lighting ideas can help to make the event more relaxing and memorable for your guests, says hosting expert Sarah Klingman. It all plays into the welcoming but sophisticated mood. 

If you want to go the extra mile, consider having table menus or place cards printed to match the theme too, or add in small table favors to make a lasting impression on your guests. 


How do you throw an elegant party at home?  

The easiest way to throw an elegant party at home is to create a formal yet intimate atmosphere through a sophisticated theme (displayed through formal tablescapes, invitations, menus, and table favors) and cozy lighting and music. Setting up this atmosphere to fully immerse your guests will get your guests in the right mood and allow the evening to flow smoothly.  

How can I be a good host?  

When hosting a formal event, paying attention to your guests, their interests, and preferences, and showing that you care is a great way to make a lasting impression. While you do not need to do the level of research into your guests as a head of state, knowing small details about their interests that you can converse with them about, or preparing a meal or drinks to their preferences will ensure they have a night to remember.  

With everything in place it can be helpful to finish the set-up process by walking through the space as if you were a guest, looking through a different lens to see if you can spot anything out of place, anything that might get in the way, or anything you would rather guests didn't see, suggests Vinjay Goel, event planner. 

‘This is the best way to ensure the right space, flow, and atmosphere,’ he shares. 

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.