What’s better than delicious food, fabulous friends and compelling conversation? A well-done dinner party aims to achieve all three, but many folks often crumble under the pressure of preparing an ambitious meal that pleases everyone. For the budding host who finds it hard to plan, we’ve narrowed down the five key steps to hosting a dinner party that will be as fun and refined as it is flavourful.
Decide who you’re inviting
This requires a little tact, but thankfully it’s your party and you get to decide who’s coming to dinner. Ideally, all your guests should be, if not already friends or acquaintances, likely to gel in a way that means everyone will have an enjoyable time. Creating a guest list first also helps you figure out exactly how much food, drink and other supplies you’ll need.
If one of your invitees has a reputation for baking or making sweet things, you could also recruit them in a delicious collaboration, which takes the pressure off you a bit. While it doesn’t have to be this formal, there’s also something special about sending out hand-written invitations to your would-be guests. In order to get confirmations from all of them within a week, we’d advise distributing your invites around fourteen days before the night of the party.
Prepare a menu
You may have already decided on reliable dishes you know you can pull off with gusto. But it’s also a great opportunity to branch out and give your guests a taste of the unexpected. That doesn’t mean it has to be particularly complicated. Just think about recipes that won’t be awkward or dominate the kitchen with clutter.
Go for dishes that incorporate prep work, so that in the evening you won’t be under too much strain to get the decor, ambience and food right while playing the gracious host. Roasted vegetable dishes are such an option, along with inventive pasta bakes — or even slow-cooked dishes like pulled pork along with some homemade slaw. It goes without saying that you should inquire and prepare for any special dietary requirements, allergies or intolerances your guests might have.
Another tried and tested way of guaranteeing that there’s something to suit everyone is to provide a series of appetiser to spice things up and hedge your bets at the same time. You will get to have fun (hopefully) putting together some inventive, tasty hors d’oeuvres, while keeping everyone happy. So long as nobody is vegan or lactose intolerant, fondue is a fantastically indulgent way to bring people together around a hot pot of bubbling melted cheese.
Get more drinks than you think you’d need
If you really want to splash out, some people like to hire their own bartender to give their dinner party a sophisticated edge. If this isn’t quite within your budget, however, it might be wiser to just make sure that your wine options are unassailable. Wine pairing can often be tricky, especially as guests like to bring their own bottle. To make sure that your vino blends perfectly with your menu, do your research as early as possible — especially if you want to make sure that any bottle your guests bring doesn’t contradict your expertly curated palette.
Pasta Evangelists offer the useful resource of a wine-pairing wheel for exactly this purpose — for those who prefer white, you could choose starters and canapes that go delightfully with crisp white wine, like jumbo prawns and a glass of Picpoul de Pinet. It might be an old wives’ tale, but since red wine should ideally follow white, save the Barolo or Pinot Noir for your richer and more decadent foods.
Have an alcohol-free option too, along with a crate of beer or cider for those who are not so keen on the grape. If the idea of cocktails really grabs you but you can’t fork out for a hired hand, why not kick off the party with your own homemade cocktails — the Negroni, for one, is immensely popular and incredibly easy to make.
Set your table properly
A properly curated dining table is the secret to a memorable dinner party. We’re not just talking about having enough cutlery for your guests (and knowing the right way to lay it) — think about what other adornments you can put out, like some elegant candles or lighting to bring some ambience. The godmother of dinner party etiquette, Emily Post, dictated that to set a table properly depends on which style you’re aiming for: casual/relaxed, informal/semi-formal, or fully-formal.
The key is to be consistent, so decide early on and figure out exactly how many soup or dessert spoons you’ll need. Try and think about how far your best china can go around — there’s no better opportunity to use it than now, so it might mean you have to purchase some more in order to make your table aesthetically pleasing, which can also serve as a great conversation starter.
Use the elegant glasses if you’re having cocktails, and flutes if you’re starting out with a bit of fizz. Setting your table correctly will help you curate the overall atmosphere through decor — this means choosing the colour scheme, complemented by beautiful bouquets of flowers as the centrepiece — along with a deftly chosen soundtrack. Also, make sure to grab some spare linen serviettes — just in case of a wine emergency!