How to Throw a Fabulous Dinner Party: A Step-by-Step Guide for Private and Corporate Events


Newbie organizers frequently experience extreme anxiety. Even individuals who have planned events numerous times before worry that something will go wrong and they will be made fun of. We hope to ease your concerns and calm your nerves by assisting you throughout the endeavor.

You need to ask a lot of questions. Since you’re probably a first-timer and have no idea what questions to ask, let’s go ahead and list them out for you.

Filling out a form could be the simplest solution. (I adore paperwork!)
If you called me and asked me to help you plan an event, I would first grab a blank form, and we could do it together over the phone. If I knew everything, I’d be able to help you far better.

You can download a banquet planning worksheet (Portable Document Format) from my site to get ahead of the game. So that you may follow along with the planning process as I discuss it, I’ve included a worksheet for you to use. I’ve also included a sample worksheet with some blanks filled in if that would be helpful.

Let’s start with some research.


Asking, “What is the event’s purpose?” is the first and arguably most crucial question. The agenda of your event should be tailored to its intended goal.


Find a calendar and pick a date for your gathering. Check for any potential problems. If the weekend is part of a three-day holiday, attracting guests to a banquet on a Saturday evening may be difficult. Hosting a church social on the same night as an open house or performance at the school where most of your congregation’s children are enrolled would be counterproductive.

Put a date on the calendar and see if you can anticipate any conflicts. One group I’m aware of rented out the clubhouse of a retirement community that was predominately Jewish to host a viral and rather costly Jewish comedian. Ticket sales tanked because no one thought to check the Jewish calendar before scheduling his performance on holiday.


When creating a budget, there are numerous variables to consider. In the first place, how many people are anticipated to show up? Even if you have an excellent plan for the corporate party, you may have to “guesstimate” a few details until you find out more. Make an educated guess based on the information at hand and go forward.


Your guests’ budgetary constraints should also be considered before we settle on a venue. Of course, we could do things backward and decide on a place, a band, a menu, etc., and then figure out how much everyone should chip in, but that approach will likely leave you out of pocket.

If you’re hosting a party for 1,000 people and think spending $25 on each guest is reasonable, you’ll need $25,000 to cover food, printing, entertainment, etc. You’re much more constrained if you anticipate only 20 people, and you know they won’t come if the price is more than $5.00 per person.


Find out where in the world the function will be held. You may be familiar with local hotels, country clubs, restaurants, and catering halls that can accommodate your group because you reside in the region. Don’t hire a venue without visiting the area if you don’t live there. I recommend hiring a professional meeting planner if the event is in a faraway city and you cannot attend in person.

I once attended the banquet in a charming “50s malt-shop-type restaurant. The party planner had not visited the venue to inspect the room where the party would be held, instead relying on the word of a friend. While the restaurant was excellent, the “room” had only about five permanent booths along each wall, with guests facing in all directions.

In our example of 200 individuals, a banquet facility would be pleased to furnish a private room to sell 200 meals, but many, if not most, establishments do not charge a fee for the use of the space and instead incorporate the rental cost into the price of the meal.

We’ll charge $30.00 per person and give them the option of a chicken dinner ($12.00) with drinks, salad, and dessert; a prime rib dinner ($18.00) with drinks, salad, and dessert; or a sirloin steak dinner ($25.00) with drinks and dessert.

Oh, Oh! Find out if that includes tax and tip, or you may be in for a nasty shock at night’s end. Let’s say it does not. 15% tip and 8% tax make the dinner $22.14 per person. Our sample budget calls for $2000, or 30 people at $30.00 each.

Keep in mind that the venue may require a deposit and guarantee. For example, if you guarantee 200 people, you will be responsible for paying for 200 dinners even if only 175 people show up. However, most venues are equipped to serve about 10% more people than you guarantee, so it makes more sense to ensure a smaller number.

In our example of 200 people, I would guarantee the restaurant 185 just to be safe. If you’re pre-selling tickets, which I highly recommend, you can constantly adjust your estimate upwards with the restaurant a day or two ahead of time; make sure to inquire with the venue about their requirements regarding a change in the guarantee.


The evening’s schedule will look something like this. However, it will be heavily influenced by the event’s purpose:

Cocktail or a social hour from 6 pm till 7 pm

Dinner is from 7 pm until 8 pm.

Meeting/Awards/Business 8 pm-8:15 pm

Speaker/Performance Time: 8:15-9:00

Door Prizes/Raffle: 9:00 – 9:10

Time: 9:10 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.

You and the venue will want everyone there when you dine, so giving yourself an hour to “gather” is a good idea. In my experience, events usually start late, so be prepared and not be disappointed.

If you decide to have a “Hosted” bar, where guests’ drinks are on the house, you can expect to spend around $1,200 on beverages for our hypothetical group of 200 people. On the other hand, most organization-sponsored events have a “No-Host” bar, where guests are expected to pay for their drinks.

Entertainment during the cocktail hour is highly recommended. The most cost-effective option is to have music piped in through the venue’s sound system; however, for around $300, you could have live music. Most banquet facilities have a piano, sometimes on wheels, and will let you rent it or use it for free.

A strolling “close-up” magician, performing from group to group or table to table, is always entertaining, as is a strolling chamber group, jazz or “society” trio, harpist, or strolling accordionist.


Simply have everyone in your group take a seat when the maitre d’ announces that supper is ready.

Most banquets have a few people designated to sit at the head table, while the rest of the guests are free to sit wherever they like. If you opt to have a head table, you should create small place markers for the VIPs and talk to the venue about how the tables will be set up.


Your President, or whoever is in charge, should welcome everyone, and then someone (maybe you) should step up to the microphone, declare that supper is ready, and invite everyone to take a seat.

Your Master of Ceremonies (or whoever is conducting) should introduce the people sitting at the head table, introducing himself last, after the flag salute and prayer, if there is one. These people should not be called upon extemporaneously but should be asked in advance, and their names and responsibilities should be listed on the printed program, if there is one.


Ensure the venue understands that you do not want bussing (the clearing of tables) or coffee served after the program begins, as these activities can be distracting and detract from the audience’s ability to engage with the program entirely.


The main speaker or the entertainment could be introduced after handling the opening remarks and other business.

The best way to ensure the success of your event is to employ a professional, and at the time of this writing, a budget of $500 to $1,000 will get you some top-notch entertainment.

What about 30–40 minutes of nonstop laughter provided by a comedian–a magician who uses a member or two of your organization and performs some amusing bits of business and audience-involvement magic tricks?

Alternatively, let’s say dessert has just been served, and “Lt. All eyes are on this familiar figure as he turns and leaves. He is dressed like Columbo, complete with an overcoat and cigar. “Oh, excuse me,” he says. “I was looking for somebody else.”After that, he delivers a comedic performance for about half an hour utilizing the names of people in your company, a la Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo.

That will make your audience howl with laughter. These are but a couple of examples. Everyone enjoys a good joke, and you’ll become a hero if you’re a skilled entertainer who can make them.

Where do you go to find that sort of amusement? Again, be wary of the well-intentioned friend. The evening can be ruined if the comedian or banjo player you hire through a mutual acquaintance falls short of your expectations.

Working with a professional talent agent specializing in special events is probably the best way to secure talent. In most cases, he doesn’t charge anything for what he does. He can offer advice and solutions depending on your situation and financial constraints.

Some performers will need unique accommodations from the venue, such as a stage, lighting, or two microphones. A rental fee could be required.


Door prizes and raffles should not be given until after the main event. Maybe it’s a way to ensure that everyone stays for the finale.

Again, a budget is necessary if you plan on selling raffle tickets. In terms of both quantity and price, how many tickets do you anticipate selling? Do you hope to generate a financial profit? From the estimated 200 attendees, suppose you expect to make $100 in ticket sales at the banquet’s suggested price of $2. You’ll have $200 to spend on rewards. You can allocate this sum to the general fund or choose an individual to organize the raffle, from prize procurement to ticket distribution.


The official program is finished after the raffle. All of your people may now return home. They can stick around for dancing if you’ve hired a DJ or band.

The venue may cover the cost of putting in a dance floor. A makeshift dance floor sometimes replaces the carpet. For a four-hour engagement, a band’s price ranges from $150 to $450 per musician. A keyboardist, drummer, and guitarist would cost between $750 and $1,500.

The going rate for a five-piece band with a vocalist is between $1,800 and $3,500. One or more members of the band you hire may also be available to play during the cocktail hour and dinner for an extra cost. A deposit is typically required at the time the band is booked. When making initial plans, inquire about the cost of overtime with the band or agent if you anticipate needing their services for longer than four hours. As with the audience, the band should take a short break every hour. Inquire whether the band can provide recorded music to play during intermission.

Dj on Wheels

Instead of hiring a live band, you might have DeeJay play recorded music. Here, you can avoid the dance band’s performance in favor of the original recording artist.

Most mobile DeeJay units will also be set up before dinner and provide music for the meal at no extra charge. Additionally, a DeeJay does not take breaks at night, so your event will have music playing the entire time.

A three-piece band and a DeeJay are relatively priced similarly. Adding a DeeJay who provides a light show that few bands perform may be a huge draw, even at a premium. It’s all subjective, in my opinion. There will always be those who demand a live band and those who require a DJ.


Except for archival purposes, filming an event on video is pointless. Video recordings of events are rarely seen more than once. Yes, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah may see their recording when they are older, and the bride and groom may even watch a well-edited and condensed recording. However, hardly anybody cares about the firm or organization’s annual banquet.

Instead of relying on a guest or a friend of a friend who only takes photos twice a year, I suggest you employ a professional photographer if your budget allows. The photographer can hand over printouts or a CD of digital images, from which you can select and print your favorites.


Having organized everything for an event and then having no one show up is perhaps the worst possible outcome. If it’s a workplace party with free food, entertainment, beverages, and dancing, and if everyone knows when and where it is, I don’t see why not.

However, if such is not the case, you may need to advertise the gathering. Once you have the essential information (WHEN, WHERE, WHY, WHO, and HOW MUCH), you may design a flyer to entice potential attendees.

It’s fantastic if you’re creative. You can make the flyer. If not, perhaps one of your companions would be willing to assist you. You can either “rough it out” the way you want it or hire a graphic designer to create a “camera-ready copy” for you, after which you can take it to a printer and make as many copies as needed. How many you’ll need is determined by your distribution strategy.

You must allocate funds for design, printing, envelopes, and postage. Word-of-mouth, bulletin boards, a phone committee, a club or corporate magazine, and posters are all great ways to spread the word about the event. Suppose you plan on inviting the general public to your event. In that case, you should apply the word through as many channels as possible, including those of other organizations, businesses, educational institutions, etc. If you have a committee, conduct a “brainstorming session” to develop ideas for spreading the message.

Remember that you can’t only notify people about your event if you want them to show up. You need to tell them over and over again! Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself or use all means necessary to get your point across. More people will show up if you keep reminding them.


As with advertising the event, the number of possible solutions is infinite. Getting as much money as possible upfront is ideal if you need to invest upfront. You can aid this process by selling tickets in advance. It would be best if you publicized your needs and timeframes. You can estimate the number of attendees with this method as well. However, keep in mind that some changes will inevitably be made at the last minute, so be adaptable.


Many groups merely designate the head table and allow the rest of the guests to sit wherever they like. Some parties insist on sketching diagrams of the tables, labeling and numbering them, and then sitting individuals at specific tables.

I don’t see the point in going to all that trouble, but by all means, go ahead.
If are ten persons at a table and each person pays $30, then the total cost to rent an entire table at a banquet where an individual or organization is being honored would be $300. Put a “reserved” sign with the host’s name on that table.


A lovely printed program might be placed at each place setting or handed out as people come once all the details are in and if the budget allows it. The plan for the evening and acknowledgment of everyone who helped should be included.

Many groups have been able to offset printing costs and even make a profit by selling advertising space in the program. In the income section of our example, I have entered $250. Do you not believe you may collect ten business cards and $25 from their owners in exchange for advertising on the program’s back page? Of course, if the party is to commemorate little Bobbie’s tenth birthday, this plan might seem a bit cheesy. Just use your common sense.


It’s entirely up to you whether or not to make this a significant purchase. Why not take advantage of the venue’s aesthetics if you planned a stunning event there and it isn’t a holiday-themed gathering? Call a balloon artist if you think your celebration needs decorations and have the money for it. They are an inexpensive method to make a significant impact on the aesthetics of a space.

Each table has a lovely centerpiece. Either solicit things from benevolent individuals or have a crafty person create something unique for each table. Many establishments arrange tables so beautifully that focal points are unnecessary. Spend money wisely, but remember that guests will have a more favorable impression of the event and be more likely to attend future events if the atmosphere is pleasant.

Finally, a word of warning. It’s essential to keep in mind that huge crowds can
Balloon centerpieces, in particular, don’t obstruct the view of the stage or the ability of guests at opposite ends of the table to see and converse with one another.


As with every other party planner, you will worry and stress until the end. Just chill out, give it your all, and have fun! (Here’s a secret: if you like what you’re doing, so will the people you’re doing it for!)

The President of Al Lampkin Magic, Inc. is Al Lampkin. Since 1962, he’s been working as a showman and event organizer.

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