Dinner Party Organisation Ideas
(or How to host a dinner party and actually enjoy yourself)
We love hosting a dinner party for friends at PaintSewGlueChew Towers. What could be nicer than the company of good friends, plentiful food and free flowing drink in your own home.
But I know so many people who hate to entertain. They get stressed out and don’t seem to enjoy themselves at their own dinner party. These tips are for them.
1. Keep it simple Only plan to make what you can easily produce.
Make what you know
One of the easiest ways of easy entertaining is to make what you know. That recipe you saw in the Sunday magazines, or on a fancy cooking channel may look spectacular – but attempting it for the first time when you have 8 guests arriving may be stressful. Unless you are fantastically confident, don’t do it, and stick to somethings you’ve tried before.
Or go for it – and it may turn out to be amazing. The point I’m (almost) making is, if you are anxious about entertaining, don’t make it harder than it has to be. People like well cooked simple food – you don’t need to impress them with a 12 hour liquorice sauce, or flambe.
Delegate and ask for help
If a friend offers to bring a pudding, or a salad – unless you desperately want to make everything yourself, accept graciously. You can ask them what they will bring, or politely suggest something that would go with the rest of your menu.
On the evening, ask guests to help themselves to drinks, and make sure they are in easy reach, or easily accessible. A lot of people will do so without being directed to, but I think its always worth making it clear. That way you don’t have to spend the whole night topping up peoples glasses.
Alternatively delegate the role of glass topper upper to one of your guests. Most people will be happy to pitch in.
Similarly you can ask one or more friends to help you serve up, to clear the table. Especially if you are hosting solo, its really useful to have an extra pair of hands or two.
2. Plan ahead and prep ahead
The best hosts are the ones that spend time with their guest while still managing to feed and water everyone. In the absence of an army of staff, the key is in forward planning. Do as much prep as you can before your guests arrive.
Be prepared for early guests or really late guests.
I’m guilty of this first one myself – partly I hate being late, partly can’t wait to get out for a night out, and sometimes the taxi turns up quicker than expected…….we’ve turned up at parties 7.30 on the dot where the hosts are not ready for us – hair still wet, and only partially dressed.
I am trying to be better (though I still hate being late – we now circle the block a few times, or nip to a local pub first). It can throw you completely if guests turn up 15 minutes before you expected them.
Have drinks and glasses ready for when guests arrive – wine in the fridge, beer in a bucket, cocktails – whatever you are serving, have it ready to go, so you can serve quickly while getting rid of coats, or finishing getting ready. A bowl of something to nibble is also useful, especially if people have come straight from work.
Late guests are even more annoying (though sometimes it can’t be helped) – there’s a point at which you need to move on and serve food anyway. If you can; adapted sit down starters to be stand up nibbles, (or pass round more crisps!), to keep the guests that did make it on time from eating their own arms.
Try to find out how ‘late’ the late arrivals will be. At some point (for me its an hour late), serve as you would – the latecomers can pitch in when they arrive.
Make as much of the food ahead of time:
- Casseroles, stews and tagines are your friend. The oven does all the work, and they require little or no last minute work before you serve up. They are often called crowd pleasers for a reason. Many are better on the second day after they have had time for the flavours to sink in, so make a few days ahead to reduce stress further. Check out my recipes for Beef Bourguignon, rogan josh and thai curry.
- Chop salads before guests arrive. Dress them just before serving.
- Similarly cook green vegetable like broccoli, green beens, kale, ahead of time and keep them in iced water. The chilled water stops them losing colour. They can be re heated in a few seconds by re plunging in boiling water.
- Even rice, potatoes and pasta can all be pre prepared or pre made. I make mash and then reheat it the oven with a few dabs of butter and some foil. Nobody would know the difference. I sometimes freeze rice – again, you can then make it well in advance.
- Cold starters and cold puddings made before hand are great for reducing on the night stress, as they just need to be assembled.
- Portion up items for easy serving. Ice cream for example can be put into scoops and frozen into balls which makes serving it far easier.
Make a time plan of what needs to be done
- You don’t need to stick to it religiously, but it may stop you forgetting to cook the potatoes or take something out of the oven at the right time. Its amazing what a few drinks does to the memory and time keeping!
- Setting timers on your phone can help with this.
Clear up before guests arrive
- Believe me, it will be much easier to relax if you can keep things as tidy and clean as you go along. If you have the facilities, take the rubbish and recycling out before people arrive. You will start the evening with empty bins.
- Similarly empty the dishwasher if you have one ready to stick dirty dishes straight into the machine.
Set the table
- Before guests arrive, set the table. I try and do this early in the day if I have time, as it always takes longer than you think. Not so easy if you have kids to feed immediately beforehand. When mine were little they would have a carpet picnic* when I needed to commandeer the kitchen table. Or pack them off to a friends for a playdate that night.
- Look out the serving dishes and utensils you plan to use ahead of time. This will save last minute scrabbling at the bottom of a cupboard, or realising that you lent something to a friend and didn’t get it back.
- Make place cards and allocate a seating plan. You can decide on the best place for yourself to sit for kitchen access, and put guests beside someone they will get on with. It also buys you 5-10 minutes to plate up or do last minute serving. Just point them at the table – people will sit faster if they have an allocated seat. They place cards don’t have to be fancy – get your kids to draw pictures, or be creative like these painted stone place settings:
Or check out lime place settings or eucalyptus place settings.
If anything goes wrong, roll with it. Adapt, phone in a pizza or curry, or just make beans on toast. Your guests are there to have fun, not critique your food.
I’ve had my fair share of disasters over the years:
The unexpected Vegetarian / Vegan
Its hugely annoying when someone announces an allergy or food dislike you weren’t aware of after they have arrived. Avoid this by clarifying at least the day beforehand if anyone has any food intolerances or dislikes. If its thrust on you unaware, all you can do is apologise. You will probably have something you can put on their plate so they don’t go completely hungry – salad, or some cous cous, or even just copious amounts of bread and oil or butter. Its hugely inconsiderate of guests not to give you advance notice of significant dislikes or things they won’t eat (even if you don’t ask) If you keep the wine flowing, and they have something to soak up the alcohol it won’t be a disaster.
Too many guests
I had a dinner party for 12 a few years ago, but it turned out I miscounted, and it was actually 14. The situation was made worse by the fact that I had made a seating plan with place cards….so there was no pretending! Even worse, I didn’t notice until I was plating up the food, and sent my guests to sit down…..oh dear, two people couldn’t find their place card.
After my initial horror and mortification, and some hastily re arranged plates we had a laugh, squeezed some makeshift chairs cosily round the table, and all got very drunk. It was a great night.
Last minute food disasters
Burning the beef bourguignon to a crisp, making thai prawn soup so spicy it made everyones eyes water, puddings dropped on the floor. They happen. Luckily this blog is chocked full of easy recipes that can be made easily and at very short notice. If the food is not salvagable, get a giant cheese board, or call for a pizza.
The only disaster you can’t recover from is running out of wine!
Carpet Picnic* : When my kids were little, many many years ago, one of their favourite things (I know….such simple souls) was spreading the picnic rug on the carpet, and having an indoor picnic. Sandwiches, pom bears, grapes and a carton of juice were the usual picnic fair. So nothing fancy. But for some reason, sitting on the floor was deemed a bit of a treat. Sadly it takes far more pizazz and hard cash to impress them these days. And chairs.