Entertaining 101: How to Plan a Dinner Party
The two cardinal rules for hosting a successful dinner party are: plan ahead, and keep it simple. These apply to all aspects of said event, from the guest list, to the table settings, but they’re especially important to remember when it comes to buying and cooking the actual meal. And since it’s kind of hard to throw a dinner party without food, we’ve come up with a tips (and a timeline to guide you throughout the entire process—beginning with the grocery list and ending with dessert. Bon appetite!
1 WEEK BEFORE
Plan The Menu:
When deciding what to serve, Emma Christensen, the recipe editor behind food blog Kitchn, suggests sticking to simple dishes that don’t require multiple trips to the grocery store (or stores), and that don’t necessitate too much last minute work. If you can prepare a sizable portion of the meal prior to the evening of, it will free up time to focus on other elements of the party like, say, creating the perfect playlist.
Christensen’s trick for making this happen is to have a balance of three types of dishes: dishes that can be made one to three days ahead, quick-cooking or quick-to-assemble dishes to make the day of the party, and prepared foods that can be bought locally, such as a pie or cheese. The goal is to spread out the work to avoid getting tired or stressed.
Since there’s an endless array of dishes to choose from, it also helps to center the menu around a common theme, like American comfort food, or Indian Vegetarian. Be sure to check if your guests have any dietary restrictions or allergies as well. And there’s no need to get overwhelmed and to offer too many options—your guests will appreciate a couple of delicious dishes over a host of mediocre ones.
Moreover, unless you’re confident and experienced in the kitchen, it’s probably wise to test out a recipe at this stage, or go with one that’s tried and true. In terms of finding recipes, there’s no shortage of food blogs and books, and some sites, like Rachel Ray‘s, even feature complete menus for the entire evening.
Once you’ve decided what you’ll be serving, we recommend writing down all the ingredients you need and where you need to go to get them. Call your local butcher, fish shop, or baker beforehand to see how much time in advance you have to place an order for a given party size. Further, plan out when you will prepare and cook what.
3 DAYS BEFORE
Food Shopping, Prep Work, And Freezing:
While meat and fish can, for the most part, only be bought the day before, most of your ingredients can be purchased three days prior to the party. For drinks, a good rule of thumb is to have three bottles of wine for every four guests.
If you haven’t already done so, look through your recipes and think about which ones, or which parts of one (like a sauce) you can make at this point and freeze. For example, fresh pasta, dinner rolls, pie crusts, and even things like soup bases and sauces can all be prepared at this stage and kept in the freezer. Just be sure to let these foods thaw overnight the night before.
ONE DAY BEFORE
Food Prep, Cooking, And Setting The Table:
Pick up the meat, fish, and the other items you could’t get earlier. Now you can start marinating the meat if need be. In addition, cook whatever you can that will taste just as good the next day.
Since chopping vegetables is often the most time consuming part of a recipe, it makes sense to do it the day before, leaving you with more time to relax and regroup the day of the dinner party. Also, if you need to soak anything overnight, like beans for instance, now’s the time.
If time is on your side, go ahead and set the table and arrange the flowers and other decorations. The bonus of doing this is if you’re missing anything, you’ll be able to get it the next day. You can also arrange the bar station if you’re having one, and set out the serving trays and cooking utensils you’ll need for the following day.
THE DAY OF
Complete the cooking and try to do the dishes as you go to free up kitchen space and to avoid a big mess at the end of the night. Delegate opening the door to someone else so you’re not distracted by incoming guests if you need to do any last minute prepping. This is where having appetizers that guests can serve themselves, like cheese or finger food, comes in handy.
Don’t forget to put on your party clothes, turn up the music and most of all, have fun!