Hosting a dinner party can sound stressful. The food, the drinks, the ambiance and the music are all things to consider when planning your bash, and that can become overwhelming. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. While we can’t all be natural domestic goddesses like Martha Stewart or Ina Garten, we can all throw killer dinner parties with a little planning and a few simple tips and tricks.
Ask about dietary restrictions when you invite your guests.
There’s nothing worse than a guest showing up and telling you that they’re vegetarian when you’ve prepared a beef tenderloin for dinner. Skip the last-minute scramble by asking your guests to divulge their food preferences before they arrive. This will help in your menu-planning process to ensure there’s something for everyone to eat.
Choose simple appetizers.
When planning the menu, pick simple appetizers that can be made in advance, are easy to assemble and can be served cold or at room temperature. You’ll want to save your oven space for your main course.
Some good options include a crudité platter with seasonal dips, homemade spiced nut mix, marinated olives, a bruschetta bar or a beautiful meat and cheese platter. If that seems intimidating to you, head over to Cheese by Numbers for a step-by-step tutorial on how to create gorgeous, unforgettable charcuterie boards. Be sure to set up any hors d’oeuvres away from the kitchen so guests aren’t hovering over you while you put the final touches on dinner.
Set the table the night before.
This is the oldest trick in the book. Before you go to bed, set the table with plates, napkins, flatware, glasses, place cards, flower arrangements, etc. to avoid any last-minute scrambling. Pick out your serving platters and label them with sticky notes so when your husband, wife, partner or friend asks if you need help, they’ll know exactly what goes where.
Sides are king.
Sides are usually an afterthought, but they’re the real star of the show that make your dinner a complete meal. Pick two or three sides that pair with the entrée, and make sure only one requires your immediate attention before dinner. A salad that simply needs to be tossed together, a quick roasted vegetable or a grain salad that tastes better when made the day before are all smart choices.
Be sure to have all your ingredients cut and prepared ― i.e. mise en place, a French term that translates to “everything in its place,” and the reason cooking show hosts make everything look so easy ― before you start assembling so you can quickly pull it together while guests are finishing up the first course.
Set up DIY bar with a signature batch-style cocktail.
The last thing you want to do is be a bartender to your guests when you have dinner to prepare. A simple solution is to set up a do-it-yourself bar with all the mixings so everyone can serve themselves. Stock your bar with things like citrus wedges, sparkling water, herbs, cucumber slices, olives, ginger beer, fresh berries, simple syrup, etc. Don’t forget to add jumbo pitcher of your favorite drink for guests to enjoy the moment they arrive. This simple math will help you figure out how to turn your favorite cocktail into a big-batch cocktail.
Make the main entree ahead of time.
You want to enjoy that signature cocktail, right? Choose a main dish that can either be made in advance (and tastes better the longer it sits) or a dish that can be fully assembled and then baked while you socialize with your guests. Recipes like braised meats, casseroles, hearty stews, whole roasted chicken or lasagna are great options.
You might feel the need to wow your guests with an overly complicated, fussy recipe, but it’s a good rule of thumb to make a recipe you’ve made before. If your heart is set on a new dish just be sure to test it out before the big night to work out any kinks.
It’s not the end of the world if you buy the dessert.
Do yourself a favor and go buy the dessert. You’ve just prepared a delicious meal and you deserve a break. Research the best bakery in town and buy two desserts, a chocolate one and a fruit-based one. Your guests can pick their favorite, and you’ll look like a hero. Prep your coffee machine ahead of time with the coffee grounds and water so all you have to do is press “brew” while you’re clearing plates to have fresh coffee just in time for dessert.
The last bit of advice is to enjoy yourself. No one likes a stressed-out host. If you burn the casserole, just add more cheese. If you over-salt a dish add, some chicken stock or lemon juice. If you realize you never turned the oven on, serve more wine. It will all be OK – dinner parties are more about gathering your friends and family than the food itself. Have fun!