Planning a chic dinner party is an undertaking, so we asked a local event planner how she does it. Kasey Skobel-Conyers, owner of Bliss Wedding & Event Design, gives a step-by-step guide for wowing guests with your menu, decor and more


"I think the host can put his or her mark on the party in a couple ways," says Skobel-Conyers. "Obviously the food is important. You can get creative with the beverages, and it can reflect the preferences of the host." Another way to add a personal touch is to "bring it back home" by using family recipes or incorporating meaningful pieces into the decor.


Popular decor themes from last year-patterns, sparkle and vintage-are carrying over into 2014, and nautical themes incorporating anchors and ropes are also big for spring and summer. But dinner parties don't necessarily need a theme, says Skobel-Conyers, who prefers "pretty, colorful and elegant" above all else.


"I'm still a huge fan of sending formal paper invitations in the mail as long as time permits," she says, adding they should be sent three to four weeks prior to the event. Keep in mind who you invite will set the mood of the party. "A diverse guest list is great, but if the party's going to be on the smaller side, it's important for the guests to have something in common with each other," she says.


"Consider your guests' needs as well as your own wants when you're putting together your menu," says Skobel-Conyers, who recommends Made from Scratch, Two Caterers and Cameron Mitchell Premier Events for catering. "Don't forget dessert, even if you're personally not a big dessert person. Most everyone loves dessert."


For a recent dinner party at her home, Skobel-Conyers collected sugar and cream ceramics from antique malls in Clintonville and filled them with fresh flowers to create her own centerpieces. As for the china, she recommends renting. "I always encourage my guests to use a charger plate because they stay on the table for the whole meal, and all of the other dishes are put on top of it and cleared away after each course," she says. "It creates a really beautiful look and finishes the table."