How to:… take the stress out of giving a dinner party
When you’ve admired so many of your friends gracefully hosting amazing dinner parties at their homes – you wonder how they stay so calm and in control, while juggling so many things at the same time.
Here’s how it's done – while also allowing yourself to enjoy your own stress-free evening.
Don’t over stretch yourself.
If you are hosting alone, the most you could expect to comfortably cater for is 8 people, including yourself. Think realistically about the space and furniture you have available with those people seated, or standing. And don’t over stretch financially – if you can’t afford to be lavish, scale back numbers rather than your generosity. Consider a buffet if the guest numbers are out of control.
Know your culinary limits.
Stay in your comfort zone. If you know you’re no Marcus Wareing, keep the menu simple. Well practiced, tried and tested recipes are the best ones to go for because you’ll achieve the best results and put yourself under less pressure on the night.
Plan plan plan.
As you would for any project. Even after you have a menu, brainstorm all the details, visualising the evening at all its stages, right down to the quantity of cutlery you’ll need, where you will chill wine, a playlist of music, where your guests will linger before dinner is served and so on. Write out a list of to dos and shopping, giving yourself plenty of time to achieve everything. Aim to have as much done in advance as you can, so that on the day all you need to focus on are the final things to bring it all together, and on making your house look great.
Have a trial run.
If the dinner event is an important one, have a trial run with a few of your closest friends or family – ideally not guests attending your dinner – to try out the key dishes. It will give you some extra confidence, and some helpful feedback – but most importantly it will show you how much time you need to prepare, and where the pitfalls are likely to be.
Allow yourself 30% more time on the day than you think.
With so much to think about on the day, the last thing you want is to run out of time. You’ll need discipline and energy to work hard in the last few hours. Importantly - reserve some time for yourself so that when the work is done you can relax with a drink or in the bath before guests arrive. But also be ready for an early arrival.
Work as a team.
If you are hosting with a friend or partner, agree who will do what on the night – who will answer the door and take coats, pour drinks, carve the meat, plate up, direct the seating, clear plates, choose music. That way you’ll minimise the need for ‘internal’ discussion between you in front of your guests and all will appear to be effortless.
Don’t forget your guests.
If you have chosen dishes where there is very little to do at the last minute, or better can be served in a single serving dish, or pre-plated, you’ll be able to spend more of your time with your guests. Consider a bar cart where they can help themselves to more drinks when you are out of the room. If it’s appropriate, hired help for cooking or serving is the best way of allowing you to participate in the fun and focus on the people that matter. Put your phone away all evening so that you don’t for one minute suggest to your guests that you are thinking about anyone else but those in the room.
Keep the guests out of your kitchen.
Refuse to let your guests help you. They are being courteous by offering to help (they don’t really want to) and will distract you in the kitchen. Especially don’t let them clear up. If the kitchen is a bomb site it won’t matter if they don’t see it. Anticipate the things they might be looking for if they were to wander in to your kitchen – more water? A cloth for a spill? Or a vase for their kind gift of flowers. Have all of these at the ready to help keep your guests where you want them.
Assume there will be a silent vegetarian.
Perhaps someone’s own + guest has arrived and you haven’t been warned that they don’t eat – meat – dairy – seafood.. A back up plan will not only save the day but wow your other guests as you produce an extra dish from the fridge (pre-prepared of course). If you already know of your guests likes and dislikes, catering something personalised for their individual tastes will impress – such as a non-alcoholic cocktail – or cheese instead of dessert.
Don’t forget the bathroom.
Everyone will use it at least once so make sure it is spotless, sweet smelling, and has a pile of spare towels and toilet rolls. This will be the one place your guests will spend time on their own, so they will notice the details. If you have more than one bathroom, designate the most convenient for the area you’ll seat your guests so that they’re not away from the table for too long.
If it all sounds like hard work, then relax we have it covered. Talk to Consider it Done about how your PA can make all the arrangements for you so you only need show at your own dinner party.
Another in our ‘How to make a difference’ series.