Whether you’re an old pro or a hostess-in-training, hosting a dinner party brings a little bit of anxiety. Will the food be done on time? Will our spouses get along? Did I forget to clean the bathroom? There are a lot of moving parts to think about, especially if your latest and greatest meal came from a box or had some questionable green fuzz growing on it. Not only do you want to clean the house, buy fresh groceries, tidy the kids’ toys, chill the wine or let the wine breathe, chop the veggies, and even put on a clean shirt and some mascara, it’s all supposed to happen in the same day!
Well, after you scrub the bathroom sink, let me put your mind at ease. It can truly fun experience if you keep these 10 secrets to a successful dinner party in mind.
- Plan for appetizer, dinner (entree and two sides), and a dessert. This is a general formula, even for fondue. Be sure to also have one non-alcoholic drink and one alcoholic drink (unless you have objections or you know your guest is avoiding alcohol).
- Consider the pets and the kids. Do you have a rambunctious dog that will knock your guests over? Our dog, although very sweet, is solid muscle and nearly knocks over my Mom at every visit. (I’m so sorry, Mom!) We’re working on this and have taken to putting her upstairs on some occasions or doing what the trainer suggests, keeping her on a leash until she calms down. For the kids, how old are they? Are they old enough to join you for dinner? Would they benefit from the practice? Or are they little and need to be in bed by 7:00pm. If they’re going to bed before your group dinner, get them an early dinner and dressed in PJs before your guests arrive. That way they can interact a little bit before bed but you can easily transition to sleepy time.
- Menu Design. This is usually my toughest step and I’ve had to learn the hard way. There are a lot of factors that go into this decision. Obviously, you want delicious and interesting food that you’re guests will love. You want to the food to come out at the right time. You may need to work around paleo, gluten-free, vegan etc. restrictions (make sure to ask when you invite them!). If you’re hosting a holiday like Thanksgiving with a lot of dishes, think about oven and stove-top space. Basically, I like to design the menu with one prepared item, a tried and true recipe, and one adventure.
- Enlist your Partner. I’m so grateful that my husband is actually a great cook and he even enjoys it. We have our strengths – he rocks the grill and I decorate a mean cake but we do our little kitchen dance and coordinate. This isn’t limited to romantic relationships. This may be a fun opportunity for you and your BFF or BRF (Best Running Friend) to have an early glass of wine and some snacks as you slice, dice, and marinate your way to the dinner party.
- Ask for recommendations. This goes for most everything you purchase for your party. If you’re getting flowers at a florist, ask which flowers are low allergens or will last longer (so you can enjoy them long after dinner!). Ask the butcher for the best cut of meat for what you’re planning on cooking. Most modern groceries have the skilled employees (butchers, fishmongers, bakers) tucked away from the retail floor. (This is one thing I admire about Whole Foods Market; they take the time to train their employees and then make them visible and accessible to their guests.) Once you have your main course chosen, then go to the wine section/store. Tell them what you will be preparing and ask for their recommendation. Tell them if super sweet wine gives you a headache or you drool over dry oak whites. Don’t feel pressured to buy the most expensive drink. Aim to spend $10-$25.
- Prepare over the week. Don’t leave everything to the last minute. Here is my weekly schedule ahead of a dinner party. There’s absolutely no way you can clean, chop, cook, and enjoy the evening in one day.
- Design a simple table. Unless your guest is Queen Elizabeth, you do not need 4 forks, 3 spoons, and 2 glasses. The idea is to make your guest feel at home while creating an elegant setting.
- Choose your guests wisely. If this is your first dinner party, don’t pick the school principal, pastor, or new boss for company. You will be thinking about enough, let alone saying the ‘wrong’ thing or spilling red wine on their white shirt. Invite friends that will laugh off burnt potatoes or forgive a stray Paw Patrol.
- Clear the table but don’t do the dishes. The dishes can wait until your guests leave, or even over night! Scrape off any leftovers and spray them down if must but do not do them. This is especially true between dinner and dessert. It can get super awkward if the hosts just disappear off into the kitchen. It’s especially awkward if you have an open floor plan and they can watch you doing the dishes but can’t have an easy conversation. That being said, if these are life-long friends and they want to help you, then feel free to chat while you bring things to the kitchen. But please do not make them watch you clean up after them. the idea of going to a friends’ house for dinner should be a relaxing thought not a chance to feel like you’re imposing. If they’re really a good friend, they’ll return the hospitality.
- Have Fun! This is the most important step! You’ve done the work and your friends are here. It’s time to trust your plan and enjoy their company. No matter what happens (even if the turkey is completely raw!), your guest will remember your reactions. As Maya Angelou said,
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
So as snafus arrive (and they will!), laugh it off, figure out what is edible, and go with the flow! Be sure to come back and tell me how it went. 🙂