Dinner Party 101

Hosting a dinner party for a group of friends is a great way to entertain. However, too often a small gathering can quickly burn a large hole in your wallet. Here are my top ten dinner party tips to help everything run smoothly and make sure the evening is enjoyable for everyone, even the host! What fun is throwing a dinner party if you’re about to have a nervous breakdown? The only thing that should be overwhelming is how good the food tastes!

1.    Don’t take on too much

Just because you’re hosting, doesn’t mean you need to cook everything.  Try to stay realistic with your time and skill level – no one will think you’re less of a host for not wanting to spread yourself too thin. Try picking a main dish, plus one complimentary side dish. You can suggest that your guests bring dishes as well, whether it be a salad, cooked veggie, grain or dessert. If you do decide you can handle cooking most of the meal yourself, remind your guests that you can never have too much wine and cheese!

2.    Make a budget and stick to it

Hosting your friends can be a lot of fun, but it can also have a huge strain on your wallet. Don’t let your food costs become the equivalent of treating your guests to an expensive restaurant. A good way to figure out your budget is to pick your main protein and work from there. For instance, if you have decided to make filet mignon, you can balance that cost by making a side of mashed potatoes, which are very inexpensive, and no one will mind that there are no truffles in them! Another great way to stick to your budget is to let you guests bring the wine. That way, they can decide to splurge on the $50 bottle or cheap out with the $12. Either way, it’s not on you.

3.    Set reasonable expectations for guest arrivals and dinner time

Depending on where you live, dinner times may vary. However, it’s important to keep in mind that if you invite people over for dinner at 8:30PM, dinner probably won’t be eaten until 9:30PM.  If you invite your guests over too late, they might not want to stick around after dinner to have another drink. And yes, it is ok to tell Ms. Always 30 Minutes Late that dinner starts 30 minutes earlier than it actually does. I won’t tell!

4.    Make sure you cook something that everyone can eat

These days it seems like everyone has a dietary restriction whether its gluten, dairy, meat, etc. Now, it’s unrealistic to cater to all of these restrictions – but it is good to be mindful. If you’re hell bent on cooking a specific dish, and you know more than one guest won’t be able to eat it, it’s always better to be flexible and cook something different.

5.    Time management

To me, there is nothing more awkward than arriving to a dinner party on time, only to eat 3 hours later. Allow a maximum of one hour from when you ask your guests to arrive to when you serve dinner. There will be plenty of time to drink and schmooze after dinner, but you don’t want your guests to be sloshed by the time they sit down. If you’ve done your best, but are still running behind, don’t be afraid to ask a friend to jump in and lend a helping hand!

6.    Have appetizers and/or snacks

It doesn’t matter if you’re going to be serving a king’s feast – if you don’t put food out for your guests to snack on before dinner is ready people are going to get cranky. Also, it’s always nice to have a cocktail or glass of wine before dinner, and if there is no food around to soak that up, your guests are going to be too drunk to enjoy your wonderful cooking as much!

7.    Don’t serve TOO many appetizers

Not quite as bad as no appetizers at all, however, if you have too much food out before dinner is ready, people are going to be too full to eat the main course. There is definitely a fine line between enough and too much, so you can always err on the side of 3 types of cheese, crackers & grapes!

8.    Simplicity is key

A common misconception is that an outstanding dish requires a lot of complicated techniques. Think about cooking this way – if you start with ingredients that taste good on their own, chances are they are going to taste good in a dish. Pick a few quality ingredients that will compliment each other. Remember, you’re cooking a meal that you and your friends can enjoy, not trying to impress the New York Times food critic.

9.    Experiment on your own time

Creativity is fantastic and its always great to try new dishes, whether its from a recipe or off the top of your head, however, the night of your dinner party is not the time to experiment. Make a dish that you are really comfortable with and know you can execute really well. Just because you’ve had it a few times doesn’t mean it’s not new and exciting to your guests!

10.  Everyone has a sweet tooth

Always have something to serve for dessert. This is a lesson I learned from my mom. Your guests might not always want dessert, or have room for it, but remember that saying “you always want what you can’t have,” because in the case of a dinner party – it’s always true. Plus, serving dessert is a nice way to wrap up the meal, even if it’s just fresh fruit, ice cream, chocolate or store bought cookies.

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