A dinner party is a great opportunity to invite your friends and family over for a lovely evening of food and conversation, but if you haven’t hosted one before you may worry it will be too fussy or stressful. Fortunately, that’s not a requirement; all a dinner party truly needs is guests, a table and chairs, and a dinner. Here are some practical tips to help you host without getting in over your head.
First, think about who you want to invite. Consider potential guests’ personalities and interests so that you can create a compatible mix. Once you’ve settled on a guest list, ask about any dietary restrictions you’ll need to be mindful of while cooking.
Carefully planning the menu is key. Choose dishes that you know go well together and that you’re confident in your ability to make, and compare preparation and cooking times to make sure nothing will be getting cold while the rest of the meal is still in the oven. It can be helpful to make a detailed schedule of cooking steps. Remember too that you may need to double or triple a recipe depending on the number of guests.
Shop for ingredients the day before the party so you’ll have time to find another source or make adjustments to your plans if your regular store is out of something crucial. Doing as much prep work as possible (washing and chopping produce, for example) in advance is also a good idea. Make sure your dishwasher or sink is empty before you start cooking so you can quickly stow dirty dishes out of the way. Clean up as you cook, and be sure to follow safe handling guidelines if you’re using raw meat.
Set the Scene
Dinner parties don’t have to be fancy or expensive to be a success; you just need to pay attention to your guests’ comfort. Set some music playing quietly in the background, and make sure guests have comfortable seats and somewhere other than the table or couch to stow bags and coats. You don’t have to do a full cocktail hour before the meal unless you want to, but it’s always nice to have a selection of beverages and a few appetizers ready as soon as guests arrive. If you are running low on ideas for fun appetizers, there are lots of online resources like the Kitchen Community to help you take the guess work out of your pre-dinner snacks.
A few small touches go a long way in sprucing up your table. Napkins with pretty patterns are inexpensive and fun, and a tablecloth adds color while making clean-up easier. Some people love creating elaborate decorations to surround every place setting, but if that’s not your style, a simple centerpiece such as a vase of flowers or a pair of candlesticks will lend elegance without requiring preparation. Set the table before you start cooking to avoid a last-minute scramble.
Dinner parties can be as elaborate as you like, but don’t feel pressured to get fancy if you’d rather keep things simple. A little planning and a focus on the essentials make it easy to host an evening of food and fun.