Sensitive topic, here. The very idea of a Dinner Party scares some people – it’s so scary it’s written here in capital letters! The phrase conjures up scenes from Downton Abbey: a bunch of stuffed shirts (and I mean that literally – the Edwardian-era English definitely put stuff in there) wait around sipping cocktails and nibbling on finger sandwiches until the bell rings. At the ring, they all adjourn to an enormous table and spend two hours scrupulously not offending each other.
Of course, modern people don’t have anything like that going on, but thematically it’s similar. You worry about having people over. You worry that those people will judge your window treatments, the absolute cleanliness of your floor, whether or not your kid has the correct organic cotton onesie…and so on. The stress is endless, and it boils down to OMG these people are IN MY HOUSE and I want to make sure they have the best time ever!!!! Naturally, your guests can feel your tension, and the whole thing ends up being as awkward as a Downton Abbey dinner, even though it’s summer and everyone is wearing flip-flops.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Think a bit beforehand. Here’s what you might want to think about:
Think About Who Is Coming
How big is your place? Can you have six people, or sixty? (if you’re doing the latter, hire a caterer unless you are one professionally, which probably means you can’t afford to be having sixty people over. Just sayin’) Where are they going to sit?
Think about Where They’ll Hang Out
Everyone always hangs out in the kitchen, especially if the host is in and out of there cooking and heating things up. The food is in there, refills on ice are there, it smells good, and it’s where the action is happening. If you don’t have one of those fabulous kitchens that open up to a big ol’ room, plan accordingly. Even if you hate being in the kitchen, you’re going to have to plan accordingly. Nowhere to sit? Bring in some folding chairs, a yoga ball, or just clear some counter space.
Think About What You Are Cooking
Now is not the time to try out DIY molecular gastronomy gear. Make things with a minimum of ingredients, a maximum ability to be prepped early, or an incredibly quick cooking time. Winter stews are great for this. Grilling can be, unless it’s something that needs to be carved (flank steaks, racks of lamb). Why? Because by the time you’re done carving, the stuff you started with is cold. Keep in mind that you’re serving more people than usual, and cold food is frustrating. Think curries, salads, chili…nobody in their right mind is expecting pate and red wine reduction glazes.
Have Drinks Ready At the Start
Yep. Not just because booze is a good social lubricant and will help your guests get to know each other a bit. Also because having a drink is something to do with your hands. People like having something in hand; that’s part of the reason everyone’s always playing with their phones. The side corollary to this is that if everyone is playing with their phones at your dinner party, you’ve got a big problem.
Dessert = cookies and ice cream
Trust me on this one. Everyone will love it, and it’s low, low effort.
Perhaps the biggest one on this list. These people are your friends. You (hopefully) like them. Dinner with friends is good.
Actually, maybe that’s the biggest thing. You’re not throwing a dinner party. You’re having dinner with friends; it just happens to be at your place.