Elegance and simplicity . . . yes, they do go together and are the end product of good planning for your dinner party.
Think how easily and beautifully a ballet dancer performs on stage. We know how much practice and torture she goes through to achieve that ''easy'' look.
I am not saying that you have to torture yourself; I am saying that one needs to think and plan before the first guest reaches your door. Excellence can be achieved even without the benefit of outside help.
First of all, invite people you really want to see. One or two new friends is a good way to start.
Invite only the number you can really take care of. There is nothing worse than trying to sit at a table where you don't fit.
One way to invite is to call first and then send a ''to remind'' note, including the date and the time of the dinner. Think of what you want your evening to be. Note: I said evening. There is much more to the party than dinner. It consists of three major parts, all of which combine to create success: before dinner, dinner, and after dinner.
First, when the guests arrive, the host or hostess should be at the door; the other partner should be in the living room to greet the guests as they enter. Either you or your partner, whoever is at the door, should have this as the primary task until all the guests have arrived.
The dining table has been pre-set with dinner plates in front of the host and salad plates for the hostess. I prefer one service platter and one salad bowl for serving this kind of dinner.
After dinner, as the plates are being picked up by the host, the hostess may begin serving dessert. As your dinner was very simple, dessert may be caloric and elaborate. Try one of your best, a chiffon pie or a chocolate russe, as long as it is ready before dinner begins. An old-fashioned luncheon
Handmade quilts, crocks, and pottery can spruce up an afternoon luncheon. Pewter, copper, or clay pots -- those everyday articles lying around the house -- can be used for serving, cooking, or decoration.
Even your unmatched dishes can be brought out and used. It's a perfect time to put them back into use for an old-fashioned luncheon.
Throw a patchwork quilt over your dining table. Suddenly you have a unique look. When used as a centerpiece, a tureen, an old crock filled with garden flowers, or just greens can add special warmth. Tips:
1. Choose a simple menu you can prepare the night before.
2. Place your serving dishes and utensils in sequence on a side table or buffet the night before. These might include bright-colored paper napkins in a mug or in an old pot, flatware in a copper kettle, stacked plates, a meat platter, and a wicker or straw basket for hot bread.
3. Your first course, a soup or hot cider, may be served by a friend in your living room or family room as the guests arrive. Mugs and your old tureen should be in place and ready for service.
4. Individual jams or miniature fresh-baked breads can be put at each setting and be used as place cards as well as take-home gifts.