Love having friends round for dinner, but always find there’s one thing you’ve forgotten, the food hasn’t turned out as planned or you feel just a bit frazzled?!
Fret not, because we’ve pulled together the ultimate dinner party guide to make sure everything comes together as you would have hoped (and most importantly, that you can relax when everyone arrives – otherwise, what’s the point?!).
We asked Karen Thomas, product manager at Waitrose, how to be the ultimate dinner party host, from how to plan a menu to what to how to make a playlist…
1. Be realistic
You might want to go all-out with a cheffy menu, but be realistic about what you can make at home, when there will be guests around that you’ll want to chat to (especially if you will be cooking solo). It might be difficult to cook 14 lamb shanks at once in a regular-sized oven, for example, so don’t even try! Pick a menu that doesn’t require oven cooking at different temperatures – or if not, you may need to allow for gaps between courses or think about a different way to cook the starter or main.
Go for recipes you’ve enjoyed making before, or if you want to try something new do a test run with family… Who won’t want to try three courses?!
4. Pick a theme
Stick to one cuisine so courses complement each other. Middle Eastern recipes or Mexican recipes on trend and can work well for a more laidback evening, with lots of sharing plates that you can make ahead.
5. Prepare ahead
Pick recipes that let you get ahead by making a few steps a day or two in advance. Some even taste better that way, especially when it comes to marinating meat.
6. Make a shopping list – and stick to it
The week before your dinner party, put together a list of groceries you need to buy and from where. Ordering online is a great timesaver but if your recipe requires an unusual ingredient you may need to visit a specialist supermarket, so allow for extra time for this. Shop for fresh ingredients (meat, dairy, vegetables) two days before the dinner party, but items with a short shelf life (like bread and seafood) should be purchased the day of the party to ensure freshness.
7. Eat in season
Eating foods in season means they will be at their best AND be the best value, when they might be expensive at other times of year, like strawberries, asparagus and tomatoes, for example.
8. More is more
Make sure no one leaves hungry! If you are unsure on how many portions to purchase or bottles to buy, opt for more as you can always use these after.
9. Create an atmosphere
Think about the ambience you want to create for the evening. Flowers from the garden can bring the outside in and candles help create a relaxed and intimate feel.
10. Style your table
“Styling your dishes and tableware to mirror your chosen cuisine can create a really impactful look,” says Karen. “Choose colours, patterns, glassware, tableware, and textiles to complement the food. For example, lots of small plates for a tapas feast, casual Mediterranean platters for an Italian feel, shared plates and dipping bowls if serving Middle Eastern food and classic restaurant bistro table ware for French cuisine. If you do not have the right serving dishes, linen or glassware you can always borrow from a friend.”
Set the table earlier in the day as this will highlight anything that you might have forgotten. “If your dinner party is more formal, print menus and handwrite some place cards so guests can find their seat easily,” says Karen. “Personalisation can be a thoughtful and charming touch such as place cards with homemade stamps, chalk board, photos or stickers, which can be lovely additions.”
12. Organise a playlist
Choose an album or create a playlist of songs to set the mood. Put this on before the guests arrive as it helps the host to de-stress and creates a party atmosphere for the guests arriving.
Now everything is in place, it’s your time to relax. Remember that your guests are primarily coming to socialise, not rate your food. If guests ask to help by bringing wine along or dishes to share, let them. It means one less thing to remember, after all!