Laura de Barra shares her hosting tips, from planning your dinner party to setting the table

We caught up with gaff goddess and all round entertaining pro, Laura de Barra to get her top tips on hosting. Now obviously these work for any time of the year, but at Christmas stress levels are high and many of us could do with some advice on how to manage cooking for a crowd like a pro.

When it comes to entertaining, people seem to think they need lots of extras, and all the right things to make it perfect. What are your top tips on making it a fabulous and stress-free experience?


In the book there’s a section in it on hostess anxiety and that looking after yourself, first of all is most important, so hydrate! We want to do the best we can and we end up starving, with low blood sugar and no water.


The planning can actually be so chic and so fun, and it means you don’t make any mistakes on the night. My number one tip for a dinner party or any event is there’s always going to be one friend who loves to help out, who has your back. So the day of, or the day before, message them and ask, ‘will you be like my sous for the day’ and if I need you during the day can I give you a nod. So have your buddy planned.


In the book I take you through a couple of different lists, like what do you want to eat and drink and then you lay out everything for the meal like the knives and forks, the crockery and you set yourself up these stations. I always think when you’re hosting, food and drinks should be things that can go on without you, so you’re at the table more.

You’re not the owner of the restaurant, look for meals that are long and slow cooking, or they’re in a pot, served family style, you don’t have to do all these insane plated up meals, because where are you then? You’re just a waitress at the event.


I also have tips on playlists and I like to play martini lounge music from the like 70s and 80s! It’s kind of like elevator music from the 80s that was designed to keep people upbeat.


Hydration is like something that people always forget. I always say for a dinner party the key, key, key thing is hydration so I don’t normally give exact dimensions and calculations in the book because I don’t want to make anyone feel like they need to fit in a box, but I the ideal is like a 250ml glass.

There is also a cocktail recipe in the book that you can actually really lower the alcohol in and because it’s a gorgeous bright, pinky purple people are like ‘Oh my god, that’s amazing’, but your guests aren’t getting drunk. It’s a bit of entertainment as well.


My main tip would be that it’s not about what you have, it’s about how you’re using it. People often say, ‘oh I don’t have all the matching forks and knives etc’. So what you do is, you take everything out of your cupboards that you think you may use. Once you’ve pulled them out just think, ‘right what can I do here?’

If you have mismatched pieces, that you love and don’t want to get rid of, as long as everyone has one of the same thing, like a water glass, a wine glass, a knife and fork, the actual visual and everything the person needs to eat their dinner comfortably and styled nicely is all you need.

Always remember in the middle of the table or where you’re putting stuff down, don’t bother decorating, it’ll be full soon, so just have simple high candles. Candles should always be above the eyeline so people can see each other.

In the book I also have different ways to fold napkins, so your centerpiece can just be your napkin fold. Just one chic napkin fold looks considered, first of all it sets out places, so you’re filling your table and people know this is where I sit. Then you’ve got the visual of it, and then also when people are unfolding it’s an instant conversation starter.

What I love is, you can always slot in a name card if you want too. They’re your anchors around the table, and then once you start putting in glassware, then you’re sliding your cutlery into it, and that’s what’s building it out. You can actually make the best setting, from what you’re going to use during the dinner, rather than things that are going to get in the way during dinner.

For more of Laura’s expert tips you can pick up her latest book,Décor Galore: The Essential Guide to Styling Your Home here.  


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