Made in Chelsea fans will know of star Mark-Francis Vandelli's impeccable taste when it comes to fine dining, style and, well, everything really. Mark has made his name on the E4 reality series teaching the rest of the cast – and indeed the world – about true class and how to avoid hideous fashion faux pas. This is the man who once said: "Unless you have a family tiara, you don't wear one." Quite.
Mark recently gave McDonalds' High Street Kensington branch a makeover for the launch of the food chain's new Signature collection of burgers, surprising diners with butlers and a string quartet - so who better to give HELLO! advice on how to throw a decadent dinner party on a budget?
Mark told us: "It takes good taste to throw a great dinner party, and unfortunately that is something you either have or don't have. It is certainly something you can learn though - watching films from the 30s, 40s and 50s can teach people a great deal about glamour and style."
Here are Mark's top tips for wowing your guests:
1) Consider your dining room décor
Number one on Mark's list are flowers. "If you can afford a great florist like Rob Van Helden, then go straight to them because they know exactly what they are doing. If you can't, it doesn't matter because you can do it yourself. Mirrored tables are beautiful, particularly if you have a chandelier or flowers that are reflected in it. Flowers look better when they are low so you can actually see across the table.
He adds: "It's very important to have a colour scheme, but it should never ever, ever be yellow because there is nothing more atrocious than yellow flowers. In my mind they are unspeakable ghastly.
"Whatever type of scheme one goes for, it has to be suited to the setting. There's no point having some over the top scheme in a barn because it's not going to really translate – an element of appropriacy is important."
2) Don't go OTT with the food
Mark tells HELLO!: "I was at a very big party in St Tropez this summer. It was four nights, 500 poeple and organised to the most minute detail. The last dinner was a very grand affair, probably five courses. After the second (course), the hostess very wisely decided to cancel all the rest of the food because she realised that people had had enough of sitting at the table, eating and being stuck sandwiched very tightly between two people that they had not chosen necessarily to sit next to. I thought it was a very interesting move and one that too seldom happens.
"We give a great deal of importance to the food - and there's nothing worse than terrible food - but when people come to a party they want to have fun. It's not a business lunch. Food should not take too long." Mark adds that drinks should suit the environment of the dinner party and, "One's glass should never be empty."
3) Always have a seating plan
"I was at a very beautiful dinner party recently, which had been organised sublimely," Mark reveals. "There were 45 people on one long table in the South of France, in the most beautiful estate. It was heavenly. This lady is known for giving the most beautiful dinners, but unfortunately she did not have a placement (seating plan) and nobody knew this until they reached the table. In an attempt to be polite, I let everyone sit and then found there was nowhere for me."
So, he says, it's important to always have a table plan. "If you don't have one, inform people before they reach the table. I know it sounds silly, but if you've got to spend three hours sitting next to someone, you would like it to be someone you can communicate with and not a Russian who doesn't speak any English, French, Italian or Spanish or any other European language you might be acquainted with."
4) Think about table linen
"A host's choice of linen is very important," says Mark. "Certainly, one should not be asked to deal with any sort of paper napkin on any occasion. Paper should not be at the table in any form unless it's a name card holder." Got it.
5) Avoid cutlery confusion… and soup
Perhaps our favourite tip, Mark advises: "There shouldn't be too much cutlery because it looks pretentious. If there are more than three forks, it's a bit silly. Also, anyone who eats ice cream with a spoon has to be removed from the table at once. Actually, one doesn't invite people who eat ice cream with a spoon because you can tell the sort of people who eat ice cream with a spoon for miles."
Ok, so what should we eat ice cream with? "A fork, like a normal civilised human being. Spoons should never appear. Unless one is dealing with a soup and I would rather not be in front of a soup or any other edible liquid at dinner. It's a bit messy and one could be sitting next to someone who could make sounds while eating the soup and that would just be disastrous.
"Also, people who tilt the soup plate towards them rather than away from them when finishing the soup are people who I do not want to be sitting near. I'm not saying this as a snob. I'm saying this in order to avoid mishaps. It's not snobbish to expect people to eat properly; it's actually just good manners."
6) Choose music carefully
"A lot of people I know and hold in high esteem despise music at the dinner table, which I can understand," reveals Mark. "It is difficult to find music to suit every taste, but it should be music that's in keeping with the place, the mood, the dress, the country and never be too loud."
7) Go for soft lighting
"Lighting should be soft and make everyone look their best," advises Mark. "Temperature is very important too. If people get too hot or cold they get upset and often leave."
8) Mark's top five guests
"Ideally at a dinner party you would want an Industrialist – a captain of industry who has created an empire," explains Mark. "You always want someone's who's beautiful. It doesn't have to be aesthetic – it could be a writer, a musician or someone who sings beautifully. Then we want someone who's amusing, really, really witty. A raconteur who tells stories, who entertains, and an artist or an art historian because it's good to have a cultural backdrop. Lastly, someone you're madly in love or someone you're secretly in love with. Someone you adore."
Mark-Francis recently worked with McDonald’s to celebrate the Signature Collection, the sumptuous range of burgers, and create the UK’s first reservation-only luxury McDonald’s restaurant.
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