No matter how much of a headache it may be, and it can be trying at times and is always time-consuming, I believe every guest who accepts an invitation to a private dance should if at all possible have a dinner to go to beforehand. Nothing is drearier than to get into your party clothes after a quiet hamburger at home and sashay out the door to a party, especially to a dance that begins technically at ten at night.
Of course the ideal is a dinner dance, where everyone feels "in" from the start. But a dinner dance is a great deal more expensive and your guest list is very much more limited.
So let's consider that you are giving a dance at home, with perhaps a little supper available late in the evening, and you want everyone on your list to have an invitation to dinner. First you count up the invitations -- then you divide by at least 20. Now, which of your friends can handle a big dinner party at home of at least 20 or more? And which of them is in the habit of doing it? Those are the friends you should call to see if they would like to have a party before your dance. Try to avoid accepting offers from well-meaning pals to give a dinner for 12. The problem with this is that always -- and I really mean always -- there are going to be drop-outs. A dinner of 20 or more can survive losing two or three couples in the last two days before the party because a dinner of 16 is still o.k. A dinner of 12 loses three couples and the party becomes a get-together of six.The beleaguered dinner hostess is understandably unstrung as she contemplates her big effort turning into a sad little occasion with too much food already ordered and possibly outside help hired she no longer needs.
Some hostesses feel strongly about who will be coming to their dinner and others say, "Oh, just send me anyone you like." It's my experience that the best way to handle who goes to whose house is to type up your list on 3X5 cards as well as on big sheets of paper. Then invite all your hosts/hostesses over for lunch or tea or a drink and go over the list with them all together. This means that each of them has a chance to see who is invited to the dance and whom they particularly might want to have to dinner. Washington in particular has its standout types -- like popular ambassadors or powerful members of the cabinet or Congress -- but every town has its set of bigwigs and people who help to make a party go. These standouts must be divided up and the only way I know to do it fairly is to get your hostesses together and let them work it out.
Undoubtedly there will be a few people on the list who are not at their best at a party but whom you want to include. They should be judiciously divided up as well. No one wants to be stuck with a list of nothing but party lemons but lemons can easily be absorbed if -- again -- your dinners are big parties, not small dinners.