For some reason the “experts” in throwing dinner parties always want to discuss themes, ambiance, authentic menus and place cards. While I have nothing against such concepts, I don’t believe throwing a dinner party has to be that complicated. Save the stately dinner party for people that you want to impress, like your boss or your potential in-laws. Your friends just want good food and good conversation.
The single biggest component of a dinner party is planning. Happily, this part gets easier the more dinner parties you host.
Take a look at your calendar and pick a date and time. If there are specific people that you want to invite, give them a call at this point to find out if they’re available and ask them to save the date. Then start filling in your guest list. How many people do you want to invite and which people will be good guests? Who will help move the conversation along? Do you want only singles? Do you want each guest to bring someone you don’t already know? Your guest list will determine your success.
When it comes to planning the food, don’t get over-ambitious. No seven-course meals or molecular gastronomy. Think three courses – appetizer, main and dessert. Keep it simple, stick with stuff you’ve made in the past and that can be made in advance. Now go back to your guest list – are there any food allergies or sensitivities that you need to work around? If you’re not certain, ask the person when inviting them (which should ideally be done at this point). If someone asks to bring their own food because they’re a gluten-free vegan, don’t be offended – be grateful.
Alcohol of some sort is generally a given at dinner parties but it doesn’t have to be. If you opt not to serve alcohol, choose an appropriate beverage. If you do plan to serve alcohol, you might offer a pre-dinner cocktail. For dinner you may wish to serve wine or beer, depending on the crowd and the food. If you’re unsure about the wine, take your questions to your local liquor store (if the clerks can’t answer your questions, find another liquor store). Do not, under any circumstances, feel obligated to get your guests inebriated. Drunks are rarely welcome at any party.
Consider your dishes and serving dishes – are you missing something? Don’t be afraid to ask a friend to bring a serving platter to the party. If you’re looking to add to your collection, now is the time to hit the second-hand shops for someone else’s family heirloom.
Make your countdown checklist – what you have to clean and when, what you have to prep and when, what you have to cook and when. Don’t fall behind!
When the day comes, be the hostess. Turn on some music. Take their coats. Offer them a drink. Have some snacks out in case dinner (or guests) run late. Keep the conversation flowing. Most importantly – enjoy your party!