The key thing you need to remember is that the difference between a good dinner party and a great dinner party is all in the details. If you’re well-organized and plan ahead, you will allow yourself to spend less time in the kitchen and more time at the table with your guests. We breakdown some of the details here so you can fret less and have a great night.
1. It’s easy to get carried away with elaborate menu plans and over-the-top table settings but first timers should aim to keep it simple. Rather than a 5-course sit-down dinner for twenty, a light dinner for a few close friends will be more fun for everyone involved.
2. Once you’ve set a date (one which you’re certain you’ll have completely free and ideally no major priorities the few days leading up to it), decide on your guest list. While you want to invite people who are comfortable with each other and known to get along, don’t be scared to throw someone new or different into the mix to spice up the conversation.
3. Now that the guest list is firmed up, send out the invitations. Try not to be tempted by email and social media; the whimsy and personal touch of snail mail invitations go a long way. It’s important to ask your guests if they have any food intolerances, and to take these into account when planning the menu.
4. With guests invited, you can start working on the theme and menu. Be honest with yourself about your abilities and resources; you don’t want to overstretch and stress yourself out. Think about what meals you’ve cooked before that have been a hit, as well as what ingredients are in season. A golden rule is to never try a recipe for the first time when you’re cooking for other people. Go for dishes that can mostly be made in advance or at least require minimal cooking on the night. If it’s your first foray into entertaining, you could even make it a potluck dinner where each guest brings a dish. Finally, don’t forget the drinks – there’s no need to be extremely fussy about perfect wine pairings etc., just make sure you have plenty for everyone.
Homeground Country Classic Stew
5. Theme time! Yes, you will need music and, no, it can’t just be whatever is on your iPod already. Music is important for setting the mood; it should be down tempo enough that it won’t take over but also upbeat so that it subtly enhances the ambience. Think crooners, jazz or blues and you’re on the right track (excuse the pun). When it comes to decorations, keep it simple e.g. tea lights in bowls filled with water paired with fresh flowers in mason jars, or clusters of big candles alongside small potted plants.
6. Take stock of your crockery, cutlery, glassware and table linens, ensuring everything is presentable and that you have enough to accommodate all your guests. If you’re going for a sleek, modern look then you’ll want your dinner service to be matching, while mismatched tableware works well for a quaint, shabby chic theme.
7. Two days before the party, start shopping for food and other supplies (including any cleaning products you’ll need pre- and post-party). If you can, change bright light bulbs for ones with softer, lower wattage for added warmth and atmosphere.
8. One day before the party, begin operation clean up and prepare whatever dishes you can in advance (marinating meat etc.). Start on the rest of the food the morning of the big day. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from your partner and/or kids so you have some time for yourself to relax and glam up before everyone arrives.
9. An hour before kickoff, set the table. Half an hour before, turn on the music, put out some appetizers and make any finishing touches to the table and food. Finally, when the doorbell rings, take a deep breath and don’t forget to have fun!
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