Top Tips for Dinner Parties

The Dinner Party
your dining room: probably not quite this big*

On Wednesday night I chatted to Peter Godfrey about cronuts, the Google burger and dinner parties. Here are my essential top tips for hosting a dinner party where EVERYONE will have fun.

  1. Be realistic – about every detail. How good a cook are you really? How familiar are you with the dishes you’re making? How many people can you seat comfortably? How much time will you have to prepare?If you’ve spent all day at work you’re unlikely to be able to throw together a gourmet meal of untried recipes for eight people and get everything cleaned up (if you have an open plan kitchen/dining area) by 7pm if you get home from work at 6pm.
  2. Be prepared. Yes, this is boring but being prepared is an essential part of ensuring things runs smoothly.I personally read through recipes fully three times before I consider going near the kitchen. Do this, make a shopping list and double check it. When you’re out shopping, double check you have everything you think you have before hitting the till. Write yourself at least a list of what you need to do, and, if a schedule won’t stress you out, create one of those too.By being prepared you avoid any last minute nasty surprises. A stressed host is not a fun person to be around.
  3. Balance your menu. You might love pastry but a pastry entrée, followed by a beef Wellington, followed by a sweet pithivier is probably going to leave everyone comatose by the end of the evening.Choose one star dish where you can show off your culinary prowess and use a variety of seasonal ingredients (which will also help you save money). If your entrée and main courses are particularly rich, consider a lighter, fruit based dessert. You really want to make a rich, pastry laden dessert? Then ensure your main course is not heavy with carbs and starch.
  4. Cook in advance. Avoid last minute preparations or finishing touches as much as possible.If you’re likely to have had a few red wines by the time dessert comes around, you don’t want to be in the kitchen spinning sugar! Desserts, in particular, lend themselves to being completed early in the day or even the day before. And many hearty winter mains can at least be started early. Remember: your guests want to see you so make sure you have time to play host as well as chef.
  5. Over cater. You can eat or freeze most leftovers. You can’t, however, magic up a second portion of something from thin air.This doesn’t mean you need to cater for an army when there will be four of you for dinner, but do ensure you have one or two portions spare for anyone who is particularly hungry – or loves your food that much.  This applies to drinks (don’t forget non alcoholic!) as much as food.  Yes, hopefully your guests will be good guests and bring a bottle (or two, or a few beers) but don’t rely on this.  An open bottle of wine will keep for a day or two (and unopened bottles keep well too!) so it’s better to have a surplus to hand than have guests go thirsty.

    Part of being a good host is being a generous host.

Hopefully these ideas will help your next dinner party be a stress free event.  How do you stay calm when cooking for others?

* this is a cc licensed photo by Eric Wilcox.  It is of an installation called The Dinner Party by American artist Judy Chicago.  This piece is now on permanent display in the Brooklyn Museum, in NY.