Obamas' First State Dinner -- 'Bigger than the Biggest Wedding'

The state dinner tonight at the White House, the first of the Obama administration, is the hottest ticket in town and the most highly anticipated social event of the year.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have been active hosts since moving into the White House in January, but tonight's state dinner, in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is the ultimate invitation and the result of months of planning by hundreds of staffers, including the first lady herself.

Fewer than 400 lucky guests received the official invitation.

VIDEO: Obama Polishes Guest List for First State Dinner

A White House state dinner, thrown in honor of a visiting dignitary or head of state, is "bigger than the biggest wedding," said former White House chef Walter Scheib, who served during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

Scheib said a state dinner is more than a just meal and requires the choreography of a Broadway show.

"Maybe the only thing bigger than a state dinner is a royal wedding," said Scheib, who knows from experience, estimating that he helped prepare and serve 35 to 40 state or official dinners during his 11 years at the White House.

Historic Figures Gather at State Dinners

Anita McBride, chief of staff to former first lady Laura Bush, said the pressure is on.

"This is the standard by which all future state dinners and officials dinners will be judged," she said.

A ticket to a state dinner is coveted during any administration and only the ultra-elite will make it on the final guest lists. The invitees have ranged from senior administration officials, Cabinet members, notable newsmakers and Americans with ties to the country whose leader is being honored.

In recent years, state dinners have been rare and invitations have been hard to come by. Former President George W. Bush, who would never be taken for the most social president, hosted just six state dinners in his eight years in office, compared to 29 state dinners during the Clinton administration.

President George H.W. Bush held more than two dozen in his one term and President Ronald Reagan hosted 57 state dinners.

A seat at the table may be difficult to obtain tonight, but here's a glimpse at the planning and choreography of a state dinner from former insiders, style experts and event organizers who know how to throw a party.

State Dinner: Who Makes the Guest List?

The guest list for tonight's state dinner is larger than state dinners during the Bush administration, because the Obamas have chosen to hold it outside in a tent, instead of in the State Dining Room or East Room, to accommodate more seating.

DO: Have the right mix of guests.

Jayne Sandman, an experienced event planner in Washington, said the guest list is the most important thing when it comes to planning a large event like this.

"Everything else pales in comparison (to the guest list)," Sandman said. "You have to have the right balance and have the right mix of people."

McBride said there is a lot of planning that goes into a state dinner guest list and there is input from the State Department, National Security Advisor, the White House Office of Public Engagement and the Office of Political Affairs.

Ultimately, McBride said, the decision on the guest list rests with the president and the first lady.

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