The Secret recipe for a stress-free dinner party
By Jerome West
The dinner party is alive and well. Hosting a dinner party of your own may seem complicated and overwhelming. Well, I’ve got news for you: it’s not. The trick is to focus on a few key details. Follow these tips and you and your guests will have a fun, stress-free and memorable dinner.
Plan for Success
- Invite Guests Like You’re Casting for The Breakfast Club, Not Friends
No one should know everyone at the table. But make sure everyone knows at least one other person and that the group, as a whole, shares similar interests. A dinner party should create a social dynamic that’s never existed before. Handwritten mailed invitations are fabulous, but emails or phone calls will do the trick, too.
- Ask about Allergies
Normally, if a guest has a serious allergy or religious observance, they’ll tell you before your party. Even so, it’s always nice to ask ahead of time. Make sure there is at least one thing that everyone at the table can enjoy (besides the green salad without dressing).
- Food Control
Tell your guests not to bring anything. If you’re thinking this makes more work for you, remember: Figuring out where to stash everyone’s platters and bowls and how to serve what’s inside them? That’s work.
- Cook Smart
Avoid food that involves to-order cooking, constant stirring, flipping or checking. Keep it simple. Try onepot meals, casseroles and Crock-Pot dishes for a stress-free, satisfying entrée.
- Inventory Check
The weekend before the party, make sure you have all the necessary accoutrements (serving dishes, wine glasses, extra plates, dessert forks, etc.) so you’re not rushing around at the last minute trying to buy, borrow or steal them! Two nights before the party, set your dinner table and lay out all of your recipe ingredients. Leave the day of for emergency runs only.
- Be Flexible
Make sure your menu and your plans for the evening don’t fall apart if somebody brings an extra friend. As a rule of thumb, make enough food to serve an extra two or three guests.
Prep like a Boss
Avoid a table laden with dishes that require last-minute prep, exotic ingredients (that require multiple trips to the grocery store), recipes with long prep times or items that need lots of time in the oven or fridge. It’s fine to have one elaborate centerpiece dish, but don’t drive yourself crazy in the process!
- Do the Hard Work First
Get as much prep work as possible out of the way ahead of time. Look for recipes that include instructions on how to “plan ahead” and mention what can be prepared a day or two early. Bonus Tip: (1) chop veggies the day before the party and put them in Ziploc bags; (2) make baked desserts a few days before the party.
- Clean as You Go
While it may seem like a pain in the neck, you should really wash pots and pans right after you finish using them. That keeps a pile of scary dirty dishes from amassing during the evening. Bonus Tip: Start the night with an empty dishwasher.
If a guest asks how they can help, put them to work slicing citrus fruit for cocktails, filling water glasses or doing something else that’s easy. Do not make guests help with the dishes. That is a party fowl and a half!
- Start Early
Cooking for a group takes longer than dinner for one. Give yourself extra time in the kitchen.
- Ice, Ice Baby
Stock up on plenty of ice before your party. Even if your freezer makes ice, buy more from the store. Better yet, ask guests to bring ice. There’s nothing worse than making a cocktail without ice (except one without a cocktail napkin!).
Host with the Most
- Get the Party Started
You set the tone for the entire evening. Stay relaxed and cheerful, even if your cake caves in or your side dish burns. If you aren’t comfortable, your guests won’t be, either. Bonus Tip: Greet guests at the door in your socks or slippers. It sets a relaxed and casual vibe right away. I, however, would personally never be caught dead doing this. But that’s just me.
- Sweet Tunes
Make an awesome playlist to set the mood or let Pandora, Spotify or Sirius radio do the job for you.
Bonus Tip: Play music from hip artists like Pink Martini and Zero 7 to set the perfect chill dinner party vibe all night long.
- Don’t Overdo the Hors D’oeuvres
Limit yourself and your guests to one or two options and don’t keep replenishing the supplies. If everyone gobbles up a huge plate of cheese, they won’t want to eat your fabulous meal.
- Dim All the Lights (Sweet Darling)
Lower lighting makes everyone look prettier, sexier and more mysterious. Turn down harsh overhead lights and light some candles. Christmas lights are a fabulous option during the holiday season.
- Set the Right Tone with a Fabulous Toast
Your toast should be short, simple and mildly sentimental and/or whimsical. “To old friends and new” will totally suffice. A dinner party should be a memorable event. And everyone remembers a toast.
Bonus Tip: For a fancy Southern toast, try this one: “Bon appétit, y’all!”
- Don’t Forget About Dessert
Serve up something special (fruitcake, anyone?) along with coffee and tea to signal the end of the meal. Then retire to the living room and offer guests an after-dinner drink (if the festivities are going to continue) or a nightcap (if the party is winding down).
Bonus: Food & Drink
Dinner for Ten?
- Rub a four-pound pork shoulder with salt, pepper, smoked paprika and some crushed fennel seed. Set it fat side up on a rack in a pan with some crushed garlic and a cup of water. Cover with foil, then roast for three to four hours at 325 degrees.
- Make sure to have hunks of good bread from a bougie bakery. Warm it in the oven and serve with salted butter.
- Dress a big bowl of greens with your “house” vinaigrette (lemon and olive oil) just before you eat.
- Never, ever serve butter cold. It should always be served at room temperature so that your guests can easily apply it to their bread and savor the flavor.
- Start off with medium-octane batch cocktails like an Aperol spritz so no one gets too sloshed. Mix two parts Aperol with three parts prosecco in a pitcher right before the guests arrive. Put out large tumblers, ice, seltzer to top it off and orange slices to garnish. Now pour a big one for yourself.
- Light reds, like Gamay, will impress wine lovers and neophytes alike.
- Always keep a case of beer, extra bottles of wine and plenty of booze (bourbon, gin, vodka, etc.) handy. If you run out of alcohol during your dinner, the party will have ended before it ever started. True story.