How to Be So Food-Cool Your Dinner Party Beats Dining Out
Hosting a dinner party can be hard work, but it is a necessary step in the journey toward fully-fledged adulthood. Make a mess of it and you’re the butt of all food-related jokes for the next 20 years, but knock it out of the park and you earn legend status among loved ones. With a little planning, and the right wine, the latter is totally possible.
Before we get into everything you should know, a few key points to keep in mind: You’re aiming for the magic of a Hogwarts feast; the controlled chaos of eight voices talking excitably over one another, like in a Diane Keaton movie; and the surprise and delight of Beetlejuice (just kidding... or not). The aim of a kick-ass dinner party is to create a happy and relaxed environment for you and your guests, where there’s no risk of a maître d' coming to the table at 11 p.m. and ruining all the fun by announcing closing time.
Read on for the essential rules of hosting a great dinner party.
CURATE YOUR GUESTS
Unless you’re the most charismatic person alive, it’s tough to blend groups, or try to mix strangers in this intimate setting. So, the safest bet is to invite a group of friends who know one another. At most, you can probably bring one or two others into the mix, if you think they'll be happy chatting to your other guests.
Check for dietary requirements
You’ll want to know any dietary requirements before you start planning the menu. You’re not obliged to cater to everyone’s whims (“I hate nightshade vegetables”, “I’m fasting that day”), but do provide a few options for anyone who has food allergies, intolerances, or is vegetarian/vegan.
Keep the menu simple
Don’t try to cook something you’ve never made before. You’ve seen My Kitchen Rules; you know “trying something new” never works out. It’s also important to choose dishes that can be prepared ahead of time, or popped into the oven, and forgotten about for a few hours. Family-style cooking is going out of style in restaurants, but for dinner parties, it’s still the easiest and most enjoyable way to share a meal. Think: A pasta dish, a meat or fish dish, plus a few vegetable and salad sides, plus bread for the table (so big eaters can fill up without you having to break out the bain-marie).
Shop a day in advance
Lay out everything you need for each dish well ahead of time, just in case something has been forgotten. Likewise, hitting the supermarket a day in advance means you’re not thrown into a panic spiral when you see that Coles is out of saffron and you need to drive across town in Saturday traffic to go to your regular spice guy (hang on, you don’t have a spice guy?!).
SET THE TABLE THE NIGHT BEFORE
All the best hosts have some degree of control freak in them, so don’t bother making your housemates or SO feel like “they’re helping” by setting them the task of setting the table. You know they’ll fail to follow your instruction. Just keep the decoration to a minimum so that you can fit all of the food dishes onto the table. An assortment of plain pillar candles, cloth napkins, and a bunch of fresh flowers (to sit in the centre until it’s time to bring the food out, at which point you should move them out of the way) look pretty but not too try-hard. Don’t forget the salt and pepper shakers.
Establish the tempo
It’s a very classy move for the host to answer the door, rather than being so busy in the kitchen that guests must come to them to say hello. Better yet, do it barefoot! Everyone will instantly pick up on the casual vibe and get into the dinner party spirit. Likewise, it’s your party, so if you’re on top of the food situation, go and mingle with your guests.
Buy enough alcohol
Nobody likes a party where the wine is being rationed. If guests offer to bring something, request a bottle of wine or six-pack of beer, but operate under the assumption that no guest will show up Veuve in hand. At worst, you’ll finish up with an oversupply of non-perishable alcohol.
Don’t disregard the playlist
The right music can really bring guests together, so think carefully about which mood, genre, or artist fits the feeling you’re trying to achieve. Is this a classy affair with red wine and roast pork? Play some jazz. Is it a Sunday afternoon situation? Throw on some Caribou or Mac DeMarco. Are you planning on getting a dancefloor started later? Fleetwood Mac is the thing.
Skip the appetisers
Doing them right takes too much time and effort, and handing around a bowl of Doritos—sorry to break it to you —is not okay. Besides, there’s nothing worse than having your guests fill up on a cheese board and failing to appreciate your sublime penne alla vodka.
Clean up before bed
Don’t bother fussing over the washing up when your guests are still there; stack them up in the kitchen and forget about them. But before you turn in for the night, stack the dishwasher, take out the rubbish, and wrap up any leftovers. It’s what a fully-fledged adult would do.
Dine in Style:
Opening images: Luisa Brimble and Rappa Agency