The Perfect Dinner Party
Who doesn't like a quality gathering? Add in dinner and well, that's just divine! I've hosted a few successful dinner parties in past years and they are one of my favorite things to do (although I don't do them enough). Below are some things that have worked for me when hosting a dinner party:
Guests: I find that many people spend more time thinking about their guest lists than is necessary. To me, a perfect dinner party is no more than 8 people. This is a manageable number for the host and/or hostess for food preparation purposes. It's also a cozy number to sit around the dining table. I wouldn't say that I am strategic about a guest list, but I do think about it some. Because I have different groups of friends, it's easy to keep the groups together and I rarely like to disturb the mix. Overall, my advice is to stick to your gut - if you know you want to keep your guest list to a specific number, do that - don't spend time worrying about if you should invite certain people to avoid hurting feelings if it will push you over capacity or budget. There is no need to break the bank - or have an anxiety attack- trying to make everyone feel included. For more tips on guest lists, check this out.
Beverages: In years past, I have asked guests to bring what they like to drink, but I've moved away from that in recent years. Instead, it's important for me to know what beverages my guests like and have those readily on hand. For instance, if we are hosting a co-ed group, the gentlemen tend to enjoy whiskey or scotch, so Hassan will pick out a few options to serve during the evening. For the ladies, I keep a stock of red wine and sparkling wine on hand. The sparkling wine is a great pre-meal teaser and the red wine is a great conversation beverage that can be sipped slowly throughout the meal. If I have enough energy, I will make a specialty "adult" punch presented in a dispenser that can be refilled throughout the evening. I've tried, with success, a few of these recipes for gatherings in the past. IMPORTANT NOTE: Always have non-alcoholic beverages (especially water bottles) on hand for after dinner just in case folks need to sober up and drive home safely!
Appetizers: I'm a huge fan of having something for your guests to snack on as they arrive. This serves two purposes - 1) It satisfies any level of hunger; and 2) it takes the pressure off of you to have the meal ready. I like to be in the kitchen when guests arrive either finishing heating things up, making a batch of whatever appetizer I'm making (try these), or tending to presentation concepts. It's a touch that helps the evening feel homemade even if it's not...which brings me to.....
Main Menu: I can't lie, I am a closet caterer when it comes to dinner parties. If I can find a restaurant (or private chef) to prepare the meal, I will only worry myself about dessert. For me, this lessens the hassle of going to the grocery store and lets me focus on the things that are most important to me like creating the ambiance and refining the experience. As far as presentation, I like to serve buffet style and present the food on our kitchen table. It keeps the flow of the dining room and kitchen energetic and removes any air of stuffiness. If you are someone that doesn't mind cooking for large groups, buffet style is also easier because you can prepare a larger batch of whatever you are planning and when it's gone, it's gone. For smaller groups, I do cook and tend to go with a large pasta and salad combination or if it's cool outside, I will do something fun like Texas chili with a side of cornbread. Check out these menus that meet every need.
Ambiance: Music is a must. I find that unless I'm hosting a game-day party, having the television on will eliminate at least half of your guests from the mix. Instead of lingering over pre-dinner drinks or appetizers, people will gravitate to the television which has the effect of sucking the life out of the party. I like to stream Pandora and keep things uptempo with a playlist like "Yacht Rock" for a crowd that can appreciate the pure joy of dancing mindlessly to Hall & Oates or "Guy Radio" for people who love old school R&B. Here are some other options. Besides music, lighting is important. I prefer soft lighting and candles...always candles. In addition, using the good plates takes your party from casual to chic, even if everyone is wearing sneakers.
Activities: We like to fire up the fire-pit in the back yard if we're hosting during late fall or winter. Once dinner is over, we will invite our guests outside to enjoy more wine and cigars while polishing off dessert. We are always amazed how the conversation moves from decorating an outdoor patio to wilder tales. Playing a game of Taboo or Heads Up is also fun, but beware - the competitive spirit may leave some guests to leave sooner rather than later!
Happy entertaining! What are your dream dinner guests? Share your party tips and your dream dinner guests below in the comments. I also liked this "do's and don'ts list" for hosting dinner parties.