We all dream of holding a dinner party for friends and family where you are hailed as a great chef and greater host. But without proper care and preparation, it’s more likely that your efforts will be an in-joke for years to come.
For that is the secret to a successful dinner party: care and preparation. By following the simple steps laid out below, you can ensure that your dinner party is a complete triumph.
Keep things simple and balanced
While a dinner party is a chance to show off, it’s probably not the best time to try that complex haute cuisine dish you saw on MasterChef for the very first time.
For your main dish, stick to simple and tasty fare. If you have a signature dish you’ve made a few times before, serve that. Otherwise, well-made pasta, stew, curry, roast meat, fish, pie, or risotto will be much more welcome to your hungry guests than a badly made Michelin star confection.
Also, when planning your menu, consider how the various dishes you plan to serve go together. A quiche for starters, a pie for main, and a tart for dessert will be much too stodgy and pastry-heavy, but a pie proceeded by a salad and followed by fruit and ice cream will be much more digestible.
To make things easier, consider choosing a food theme, like Italian, or Spanish tapas.
Ask your guests whether they have specific dietary requirements before you plan your menu and buy the ingredients. It’ll save you the hassle and embarrassment of preparing a gorgeous chicken dinner, only to end up defrosting a pizza for your brother’s vegetarian partner.
Let’s face it: for many guests, the wine served at a dinner party is more important than the food.
Most of us know the main rules of wine pairing (white wine with fish, white meat, and creamy sauces; red with red meat, and tomato-based sauces), but not all wines are created equal. Splash out on a couple of more expensive bottles for the meal itself, leaving the cheaper stuff for when you’re all too well fed and watered to care.
If you or your guests are real wine aficionados, you might like to buy natural wine. Natural wine has been organically or biodynamically produced, fermented with indigenous yeast, and made with minimum intervention from vineyard to bottle. It’s a high quality, completely natural product, which would be a worthy addition to your dinner party table.
Plan your times
Try to plan your food preparation, oven, and hob times as carefully as possible, leaving enough time for you to get ready and set the table. If your starter, main and pudding all need to go into the oven at around the same time, things will start to get hectic.
Prepare as much as possible
Many dishes – particularly cold starters and desserts – can be made at leisure well ahead of your guests’ arrival, and then kept in the fridge or freezer until a few minutes before serving.
Even if you do need to cook all your dishes up until the last minute, you can make sure that all the chopping, vegetable prep, and seasoning is done, to make things easier for yourself.
Part of the fun of dinner parties is presentation, and the key to successful presentation is finishing touches.
This may mean a sprinkling of fresh herbs across your main, some bright fresh fruit on your dessert, or a gorgeous candle or vase of flowers in the centre of your table.
And a final, bonus tip: have fun! If you’re happy, relaxed, and ready to have a good time, that will set the mood for the whole evening, and guarantee the success of your dinner party.