Hosting a dinner party takes effort, time and care. Over the years I’ve thrown more parties than I can count, from intimate dinners with close friends, to themed parties for up to 100 – like our annual Paella Party. I’ve enjoyed them all and have learned lessons from each. I still get stressed over one thing or another, but I’ve learned to pace myself and be organized so I can enjoy the process as much as the party itself! Here are some tips that may inspire the party planner in you
Planning your Dinner Party – (things to think about)
Who – who are you inviting, how many, and what’s the right mix of people who will click and have dynamic conversation?
What – do you want to have a small intimate, themed, formal, al fresco, BBQ or buffet style party – there are so many options!
When – Friday and Saturday are the most popular, but sometimes weekdays or Sundays can be fun alternatives (with less competition for precious weekend time). I like to start at 6:30 PM.
Where – Do you prefer to host a casual night where guests are hanging out in the kitchen, or a formal dinner in the dining room? Or maybe al fresco, or some combination of each. Think about how you want the evening to flow and where you want people to gather. Be prepared for guests to change your plan and go with their flow. One of my favorite dinner party styles is Tapas Night (seen here). We get 6-8 people in the kitchen, sit around the island and make Tapas. We start with cocktails, then move to wine. We serve one dish at a time. No table set up required!
How – Are you going to do all the work or invite friends to participate? I love it when friends bring something to the party or when we cook together.
For me a great dinner party starts with the menu. I love to I experiment on friends and try new dishes. This is where one’s creativity and cooking confidence comes into play. I try not to overload myself with too many, or overly complicated dishes. Simple, fresh and beautiful are what I look for in a recipe or menu. I also look for my favorite flavor profiles and ingredients (like fennel, shellfish, shallots, pasta, and leeks). Don’t be afraid to try something new on guests. Enlist their help and make it a group cooking experience. My husband and I always start with cocktails! Then appetizers & hors d’oeuvres, a main course and dessert are all you need for a great evening. If you can fit a soup/salad/cheese or other course that’s great too!
Preparation and Timing
It’s important to pace yourself so you enjoy the planning, shopping, set up, cooking, and yes even the cleaning! It’s all part of the dinner party proces. The more you entertain, the more you’ll just follow your instincts, but until then, right down what you need to do when. Organize yourself for the day of the party so it’s fun for you! If you seriously don’t like cleaning, trade with someone who does. As the saying goes, I’ll cook, you clean!
Cocktails – One of the lost arts of entertaining seems to be the cocktail component. Cocktails kick off the party in style. The 3 M’s cover a range of tastes. We suggest you familiarize yourself with the Martini, Margarita, and Manhattan. You don’t have to be a bartender, you just need the right ingredients and know how to use them! Check out this week’s video and recipe for the 3Ms. You’ll be working that cocktail shaker like a pro!
Music – Music sets the mood! I love Pandora because I can manage the music without fussing over the playlist. Cocktail music should be lively and swank (Lou Rawls station is great), while dinner music should have a smooth groove (try Antonio Carlos Jobim). Depending on the mood of guests after dinner, we love to turn up the volume, and change the channel to some dance beats. Then we really get the dance party started!
Pacing – Any dinner party takes time and effort, so pace yourself. Know what’s required for your recipes both in terms of ingredients and total prep time. Set your table, straighten up and arrange settings, candles, flowers, etc. the day before (if you can). I always try to schedule a bike ride or a workout on the day of the party so I’m refreshed when guests arrive. I also want to indulge in all the wonderful food and drinks we’ll be serving…… guilt free!
I’d love you to hear your tips and dinner party stories here. Share with us on Facebook. If you’re looking for dinner party menu inspiration check out our videos and recipes. Try serving The 3 Ms at your next dinner party, Martini, Margarita, and Manhattan………your friends will feel like they’ve been to a night club!