The Candlelit Dinner

The Basics

There are 5 key elements to prepare for a successful candlelit dinner, and they are all as important as each other – remember, this is not just about food. They are covered in detail below.

  • The Food – what you serve and how you serve it makes a lot of difference
  • The Environment – the rooms you’ll be spending time in need preparing, and you’ll need to set
  • the tone with lighting and music.
  • The Table – the focus of (at least part of) the evening
  • The Little Things – finishing touches, especially thoughtful ones, make the most impact.
  • You – don’t forget to allow time to get yourself ready

The Food

Food is not just food. Careful menu choice is crucial to a successful dinner, and putting thought into planning your meal reflects how much you care about your partner.

Sophisticated food is romantic – anything flambee is impressive, provided you don’t set fire to the kitchen (experience talking, here?). Mediterranean food is also a good bet – it conjures up images of passionate Italians, romantic holidays and warmth.

Of course, there are some foods which are always romantic – champagne and chocolate rarely fail, smoked salmon works well, and supposedly aphrodisiac foods such as oysters send the right message (even if you can’t bear to eat them!).

Try doing a themed menu, for example specialising in food from a specific area, or making everything heart-shaped, or reflecting a treasured time (e.g. recipes from your favourite holiday destination).

Make sure that you have coffee and chocolates for the end of the meal.

If you need more inspiration, try:

  • getting hold of recipes from the internet (take a look at our suggested menu), the library, or by buying a new cookbook.
  • magazines, including supermarket magazines – these often contain recipes relevant to the season (of course, you are only likely to get Valentine’s suggestions in January or February!).

Things to avoid include anything too filling (feeling bloated is not romantic), things which are difficult to eat (spaghetti can cause a mess, although you could copy the stars of Disney’s ‘Lady and the Tramp’! How romantic can animation be?), shellfish that need extracting (once prepared, oysters are reasonably straightforward, but there’s nothing less romantic than pinging bits of crab shell across the table!), ‘finger-dipping’ meals such as spare ribs (if you must do finger food, keep it bite-sized). And, of course, the final thing to avoid is anything your partner doesn’t like!

The Environment

However delicious the food, it will never be romantic if eaten in a brightly-lit pigsty. In short, TIDY UP!! If it really isn’t possible, clear everything into a large box in the darkest corner of the room, cover it with a tablecloth (a disposable one works fine) that matches the rest of the room, and stand a vase of flowers on it!
Don’t forget to do any other rooms that might be used, including entrances and toilets. And don’t forget to hoover and dust.

It’s best to keep lighting subtle and intimate. Leave the main light off – use lamps, wall-lights and candles only. Experiment beforehand with the best places for the lamps. But remember people generally prefer to see what they are eating. For an extra-special effect, cover every available surface (except the table, of course) with lit candles – but remember that candles and their holders can get very hot, so PLEASE don’t scar the furniture or burn the house down!

Of course, a summer alternative is a meal under the stars. This can be a bit hit-and-miss in the UK, and can get pretty chilly even during good weather. If you do this, make sure you have something suitable for draping round shoulders if required. Even though you’ll be in the garden in the dark, it’s worth putting the rake away and mowing the lawn!

Most people would agree that, unless you met at a Motorhead concert, that isn’t romantic music. Again, try to choose albums that mean something to one or both of you. It can be useful to have a ‘Love Compilation’ album in your collection. If at all possible, line up a song during which you can say something like, “Do you remember, they were playing this when…”.

The Table

Even the ugliest table can be disguised with a long tablecloth, as you’ve probably noticed in some restaurants. Make sure that you’ve set the right cutlery for each course and put out the right glasses. Remember that, while you are in the kitchen collecting the next course, your partner will be looking at the table.

What is their favourite sauce or seasoning for the meal you are cooking? Salt and pepper are (almost) always worth putting out, but should you buy in some of that special deli-bought French vinaigrette that they love so much? How can you find out about such things before the night?

Rummaging through drawers is certainly not romantic. Make sure you know in advance exactly where to find the corkscrew, spare cutlery and (perish the thought) a cloth to dab spills – if needed, they shouldn’t be a distraction from the evening.

The Little Things

It’s the little touches that really make someone feel special. If you’ve gone to the trouble of dressing the table with flowers, candles and napkins, all in a consistent colour scheme, the table will look fantastic. Red or pink are probably the most romantic, but make sure whatever you choose doesn’t clash horribly with the rest of the room. White can offer a ‘pure’ look, but a large expanse may need to be softened with another colour .

And if you have a gift to give, make sure that it is wrapped in co-ordinated paper – you could even extend the wrapping-paper theme onto the table, by making table decorations (e.g. round the candlesticks) and napkin-rings from the paper or ribbon you use to wrap. Silver is especially good for this.


You’ve gone to all this effort to get the food, the room and the table right, but don’t forget to leave time to get yourself ready. A bath or shower would be a good idea after all that hoovering. Don’t forget to shave (yes, both men and women), and don’t use too much smelly stuff.

Smart clothes are one thing, but don’t go Black Tie unless you’ve agreed this in advance – there’s nothing worse than turning up and feeling underdressed – that makes for a self-conscious and uncomfortable evening.

And leave work behind. Your partner doesn’t want to listen to a candlelit rant at the boss.

The most important thing is to relax and have a good time. It has been a lot of effort, but you’ll have a wonderful evening to remember (until the flambee catches the curtains, the candle scorches your sideboard and you spill red wine on your partner’s clothes!).