Lord & Taylor, a leading New York department store, recently invited several top New York interior designers, caterers, and florists to take part in three ''great entertaining'' seminars. The shows were staged as a fund-raising event for the Kips Bay Boys Club.
Interior designer Alexandra Stoddard shared nine ways to ensure enjoyable and successful entertaining, as follows:
* Begin with an attractive, handwritten invitation. It enhances the anticipation of the event. Invite someone you admire but perhaps do not know very well. Call first by telephone two weeks in advance and follow up with your handwritten reminder. All things are sweetened by risk. Dare to reach out.
* Entertain to celebrate - a friend's visit, an anniversary, a welcome home. People love having something special to talk about and plan for. Place cards at each place setting also indicate that you have thoughtfully arranged a special place for each guest.
* Have your house ''party ready'' and don't try to redecorate it just before some entertaining event. It is enough to be concerned about food, flowers, and party theme decorations.
* Use a looseleaf notebook for jotting down ideas, menus, and addresses as you go along.
* Simplify your menu and plan it so everything can be prepared ahead, except perhaps for steamed vegetables. Use oversize serving plates (12 1/2 inches in diameter) so you can arrange food in the most attractive way. After all, half the feast is in its presentation.
* There is no substitute for fresh flowers. Mrs. Stoddard sometimes saves used perfume bottles and fills them with little buds or blossoms, then arranges them beside each place card.
* Don't try to match everything. If you have collected plates, let each guest dine from a different one. And don't be afraid to mix napkins and chairs, as well as demitasse cups and saucers. These are the personal touches that reflect both fun and flair.
* Create mood with lights. Mrs. Stoddard places can lights on the floor and uses floodlight bulbs in them to shoot upward, for a shimmering effect on walls and plants. She also uses lots of candles.
* Be enthusiastic about your menu and don't be concerned about who eats what. Offer guests little luxuries, delightfully arranged, and let them edit their own plates, eating what they choose.
Interior designer Mario Buatta advises hosts and hostesses to arrange furniture in round groups. This makes for easy conversational groupings.
Decorate your dining room with two tables, Mr. Buatta says. Use one for regular family dinners, and the second as a sideboard. For small parties, use one as a buffet table and the second for dining. For large parties, use both tables for dining, with mix-and-match tablecloths and napkins as well as dishes.
To designer Reuben De Saavedra there is nothing more wonderful, when entertaining or being entertained, than oversize starched napkins. And foam rubber table pads under the linens help absorb sound.
Mr. De Saavedra places all dining room lights on dimmers and uses indirect lighting within a breakfront and over pictures to give added soft lighting in a room.
Mr. Buatta also prefers round tables that seat 8 or 10, since they are ideal for good conversation. If you use several tables and need extra chairs, use two of your own formal dining chairs at each table along with the folding variety.
Zibby Tozer of the Flower Service suggests an arrangement of flowers in the foyer and entryway so your guests will immediately feel special.
She also gave the following tips:
Garnish plates for serving with a beautiful flower or a tiny bunch of grapes.
Use a big glamorous flower arrangement on a buffet table, since you don't have to see over it.
As soon as flowers arrive from the florist, slice stems on the diagonal and put them in lukewarm water. Clear all foliage from the bottom of the stem. Change the water every day. If the water clouds up, wash the vase with white vinegar or ammonia and dishwasher detergent.