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How to Create a 1930s Dinner Party Menu

1930s Era Dinner Party Ideas

For a crash course in making a 1930s party the talk of your social circle, all you need to do is review the fiction or movies of the period. Nero Wolfe, the rotund gourmet detective in Rex Stout's enormously popular series of 1930s novels, is as good at crafting meal options as he is at solving murders. For some unique ideas, check out the Nero Wolfe Cookbook available through Viking Press. It explores the wit and cooking savvy of this '30s gourmet gumshoe.

You can also use any one of the many 1930s themes to unify your party:

  • Invite a few matineeidols - During the depression, a night at the movies was the perfect escape from money woes. If this resonates with you, why not try a classic movie star theme? You can have your guests dress up as their favorite stars of old, or just display old movie posters prominently. Name your menu items after stars, and make bold star name tags with classic photos for the backs of your dining chairs.
  • Jazz it up - Don't forget the music when you're planning your party. Blues, jazz and big band swing were all keen in the 1930s, and there's no better way to strike the right mood than with authentic music. If you're a music historian, then take the time to compile your play list with care; if you just want something fast but authentic, there are style, artist and decade specific CDs on the market that will have your toes tapping in no time.
  • Make it a matinee - If you think your decor needs a little more period panache, why not use your flat screen to create a fun matinee feel. Play some classic 1930s movies, and turn the sound down low. You can even choose a movie medley from some of the best genre films of the time.
  • Serve luncheon or teainstead - During the 1930s, hosting a big dinner party may have been hard on already strained finances, but turning the affair into a luncheon, tea or brunch buffet meant the cook could serve lighter fare, which left room in the budget for making the table look scrumptious, too. A creamy lace tablecloth, silver candlesticks, crystal (or glass) accents and a large centerpiece of fresh cut flowers could dress an elegant table. A lighter meal also meant less work for the lady of the house who may have been pulling everything together without her trusty maid or part-time cook to lend a hand.

Depression-era party planners were often working alone and watching their pennies (much like us). The idea was to make entertaining look effortlessly elegant, an illusion that helped folks deal with economic hardship and convince themselves that better times were just around the corner.