Scented Candles Have A Place, But Not At Your Dinner Party

As many seasoned hosts know, the line between "detail-oriented" and "neurotic" is fine and gray when it comes to hosting. Still, as famous chef Ina Garten told Epicurious, "The most important thing for having a party is that the hostess is having fun." Guests have more fun themselves, and all it takes to throw an economical, stress-free dinner party is some thoughtful pre-planning.

On the note of minimizing worry, low lighting, like candlelight, is super cozy — and it's also really flattering. Couldn't get rid of a pimple by the time the party rolled around? No problem. Forgot to dust the mantle and realized it too late? Fuhgeddaboutit. No one's going to see. For best results, though, unscented candles are the way to go. If that sounds a little plain, that's the point. Scented candles are pleasant and inviting, but they can detract from the aroma of the food. The goal is to showcase the yummy dinner smells, not muddle them. If you're super into scented candles, you can totally still use them, just keep 'em in the bathroom.

These small waxy lights are an affordable way to set dimension and ambiance while allowing you to save the rest of your party budget for nice wine and fancy cheese. White candles will let the visual plating of the meal shine in high contrast. It's the same reason chefs avoid using blue plates, which create low contrast between the food and the plate, in their restaurants. After all, food's aesthetic appeal is an important aspect of a dinner party! But, if you're working around a certain theme, like a holiday, unscented colored candles aren't difficult to find.

Let the meal step into the spotlight

At a dinner party, it's proper etiquette to light the candles about 10 minutes before you plan to sit down to eat, like an ambiance aperitif. But, if it's more your style to keep those cozy candles glowing all evening long, opt for slow-burning, long-lasting unscented pillar candles — all intimate vibes and no overpowering fragrance. Placing a small dish under each one can help prevent a waxy mess for you to clean up later. When you're ready to blow them out, use a snuffer or a spoon to extinguish the flame. This will minimize any lingering smokiness.

Taper candles are the most dramatic choice for your tablescape. If the height of your tapers is interfering with your line of sight, you can cut a few inches off the bottom to prevent them from creating a literal firewall between you and your guests. But, taller tea lights totally get the mood lighting job done, too — and they're tougher to accidentally knock over. "Pass the wine," says one cheerful, unsuspecting guest. Another guest passes them the bottle and, whoops, knocks over a candle. Now your tablecloth is on fire. 

If you know your guests are a particularly clumsy bunch, you could also just steer clear of an unpleasant scene altogether and strategically position candles on nearby surfaces within eyeshot instead of on the table itself. Kitchen countertops, living room end tables, and room dividing ledges are all fair game.