Studio 5 Party, Holiday and Ideas Contributor Alisa Bangerter has some unique ways kids can host their own dinner before the dance.
Not every idea will work with every group or event. Make sure to consider the number of people, their personalities, the time you have, the dress of the occasion, your budget, the amount of help you will need, the location, etc. when planning. Involve teens in the plans as they will add their perspective and ideas of what they will enjoy to make the evening memorable for them.
1. Be creative with the venue.
A home is the most common place to have a dance dinner. However there are many other options that would be really fun!
There are endless possibilities here! What about having a picnic at a park, at a campground or picnic site, in the back bed of a pickup truck, in a camping trailer, etc?
Set up a table in an unusual place such in a garden area, someone’s patio or backyard, on a boat dock, in a grove of trees, in a parking lot, in a warehouse or place of business (get permission first), etc.
Many places that casual meals can be served at can be appropriate for formal occasions as well. A table set up in a grove of trees for example might be very nice especially if tiny white lights, lanterns, etc. are added for atmosphere. However, consider the dress of the group. Girls in long formals and high heels will not want to walk in dirt or damage their gowns so be aware of this when choosing a creative venue. Nice places besides homes to have a formal meal would be a club house, on a patio, poolside, in the lobby of a business office, at a garden center, on a dock, at an art gallery, a music store, etc.
2. Keep décor simple but effective.
Setting the atmosphere is important – and although specifics of a dinner may be forgotten the feeling of the occasion will not be. Décor does not need to be overwhelming and complicated but adding a few simple items can really add to help create the perfect atmosphere. Consider the official theme of the school dance and coordinate that with the meal if you wish.
Is the theme of the dance: The 50’s? Black & White? Tie Dye? Halloween? Valentine’s? Think of the options you could do with each theme which is fun since it would coordinate to the dance they would be attending. Décor (and food) could all be centered around the theme. If the theme is colors this is easy to incorporate. Decorating with the school colors and mascot is always appropriate and works well. You could also do a real or imaginary destination theme such as Italy, Bahamas, France, Mars, Egypt, etc. and coordinate everything around that theme…fun!
Tiny white Christmas type lights add a ton to a formal setting. Drape them on walls, hang from ceilings, wrap around trees, etc. Dim the lights if you can and use lamplight and candles. Tuelle, netting, satin, and other fabric draped on walls or as an arch to walk under can add. Low ceilings made with items like these always adds a dramatic effect. (Check with someone who just had a wedding as they might have centerpieces, linens, drapings, lights, etc. that you could use.) If in a small room, move out furniture as needed to make space, especially if girls are in large gowns. Use table linens and real napkins (provide large ones to cover formal wear). Mix and match china/dishes if needed. Use goblets. If there will be numerous tables to decorate, an option would be to have a separate person responsible to decorate each table – even if they are different. Keep centerpieces low. Inexpensive centerpieces are easy to make by using flowers or foliage from your yard. Place name cards at each place setting to make it easier for the kids to know where to sit.
3. Remember the menu is important.
Teens love food (especially teen boys!) so make sure to serve food they like and will enjoy. Even normal teen food can be garnished in creative ways to make it seem fun and fancy. If no options are given be aware of any allergy concerns. Also you may want to avoid large amounts of garlic, onions, nuts, unusual or hot spices in foods served.
Have a BBQ or a picnic. Use take out boxes or boxed lunches. Let kids make their own pizzas, sub sandwiches, calzones, etc. Order a 3 or 4 foot long sandwich from a deli. Have a taco, pasta, waffle, cold cereal or crepe bar. Have breakfast foods for dinner. For dessert have an ice cream bar or let kids decorate their own cookies or cupcakes. A progressive meal – where one course is eaten at each house or place is fun – this could be for a casual or formal event (this is fun done at restaurants or fast food places as well). Couples might enjoy having a simple cooking contest between each other or groups – or a simple cook-off.
Formal options to serve food are: buffet style, family style or served pre-plated. Also think through food served – is it too messy, sloppy or hard to eat for a formal event? Sometimes it is nice to give simple choices – incase some kids don’t like a certain vegetable or salad dressing, etc. If you don’t want to cook or don’t have the facilities to cook for a large group, consider having part or all of the food catered. A printed menu with or without simple choices is nice at each place setting and adds a formal feel. You can simply create menus on a home computer and print onto nice cardstock using a formal font. Serve the meal in courses. Simple but fancy garnishes can make an ordinary dish into extraordinary. It is often said that: “90% of the way a dish tastes is the way it looks or is presented”- so present it well and they will love it! Also simple food will look fancy if served in fancy dishes. A chocolate fountain for dessert is always nice – teens love this. A dessert tray brought around with choices is great option as well. Keep water/drink glasses full.
4. Add a fun and memorable element.
Have something at the dinner to help break the ice and get the kids interacting. You want to avoid the “sit and silent” meals where the kids are nervous and uncomfortable – especially in a formal meal setting.
• Have live entertainers play music and/or interact with the kids. A guitar player or a fun violinist with a sense of humor would be great. A “mini” band or musical group at an event would be fun. You could also have the teens bring their iPods and set up their own playlists for the meal. (A cd with the playlist music would also make a nice favor.)
• Set up a “photo station” with props if appropriate to get some fun improvised photos. Have a photographer (a parent, friend or someone with camera skills), take some group shots at dinner and some candids.
• A favor is always nice, however it is hard to take home because the may not have a purse and they will be going to the dance, etc. A nice favor for each person would be a cd with the photos taken from the dinner or a printed photo of the event. They could be told it will be delivered to them the next day. Simple after dinner mints or a pack of gum can also be a good favor and can easily be taken with them.
• Place digital or disposable cameras on each table and ask the kids to take candid shots during the dinner. This is a great way to get their point of view and some real keepsakes. Let everyone know they will get copies of the photos.
• Have a simple game (can be played at the table as well) while awaiting people to arrive or for food to be ready. Give a fun prize.
• Have “waiters” be dressed in formal attire, costumes, themed clothing, etc. as appropriate.
• Give a prize at the meal: place a number under a plate, a note in a fortune cookie, the teen who sits in a certain spot, the one wearing the most school colors, etc.