Thursday, April 25, 2013

Five Tips for Hosting a Great Dinner Party

I have given probably hundreds of dinner parties in my life. I want to share a few tips that have helped me over the years.

Tip 1: Bite off what you can chew
When you are planning your menu try not to overreach your cooking skills or what you are comfortable with in your entertaining space. Serving simple food is OK! Look for recipes that don't need a lot of last minute work and attention. Risotto for a crowd = not good. Try to test recipes in advance. If you have to try out a new recipe try a side dish recipe. If it fails, you have the entree to fall back on.

 It’s also OK to buy things instead of make them. Dessert is a good candidate for this.

Tip 2: Do things in advance
Try to prepare as much of the dinner as possible in advance without compromising the quality of the food. Here’s what I usually do:

Start with dessert. It’s better if dessert is not something that you have to fuss with during a party. Make dessert the day before, store it and forget about it.

Next I consider side dishes. If we are having a salad, I make it in advance and store in the fridge (without dressing of course!). Vegetables such as carrots and asparagus can be parboiled in advance and stored in the fridge. I just warm them briefly in a pan with butter or olive oil and serve. If I am doing a potato dish I choose one that can be made in advance and either cooked or reheated prior to serving. If you do need to cook a side dish just prior to serving, all of the prep work should be done in advance.

The main dish is the only thing we are likely to cook while we have guests. Try and select dishes that need minimal time and attention - grilled meat or something that goes in the oven and can stand a bit before serving.

Tip 3: Have a timeline/action plan
I typically have a general idea of the timeline for my dinner party.  It should be a bit flexible in case someone is running late, but it’s a good idea to have a sense of how long you want the cocktail period to be (about an hour is best), what time you want to serve dinner and a list of what needs to be done prior to serving dinner along with the sequence/timing in which they should be done.

Tip 4: Think beyond food

Dinner parties are not just about the food. Take some time before your party to pull out all of the serving dishes you will be using. Set the table and figure out what dishes and glasses you need to accommodate your menu. Make sure you have water on the table.

Your house should look somewhat presentable. I have a quick checklist that I go through prior to a dinner party to make sure that some basics are covered - the table is set, the porch light is on, the guest bathroom is clean and the garbage is out, etc. I actually have this list written out because I found that when I did not have it I forgot things. The list also keeps me on track so I can get that critical extra 10 minutes before a party to change clothes.

Tip 5: Have fun!
Presumably you like the people you have invited to dinner so relax and have fun. Something may go wrong, but things happen. If all else fails you can call out for pizza and open another bottle of wine.

What are some of your tips for successful dinner parties?

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