20 Simple Steps for a Stress-Free Dinner Party
April 4, 2016
Prepare in advance and laugh off mistakes: The secrets to relaxed hosting
20 Simple Steps for a Stress-Free Dinner Party
Hosting a dinner party doesn’t have to be impossibly complicated and stressful. Sharing delicious food and drinks that you have prepared, with several your closest friends may sound like a lot of hard work — especially given that you could just go out for dinner instead — but it really is worth the effort it requires. Keep the evening simple and fuss-free, and you can be the calmest-ever host, no matter how inexperienced at hosting dinner parties you really are.
Hosting a dinner party on Saturday brings with it a lot of expectation. Saturday night is the key evening of everybody’s weekend, and people will be hoping for a fantastic night. Skip Saturdays and host a more low-key party on a weeknight, or early on a Sunday evening, to avoid your guests’ high expectations stressing you out.
Bring in Appetizers
Don’t be afraid to bring in various parts of dinner. Appetizers are the best place to look for shortcuts, which can often be found at the deli. Whether you opt for a simple cheese platter, a selection of almonds, olives, crudités and dips, or warm, crusty bread and extra-virgin olive oil, no guests will complain, or really even notice, that none of your appetizers came out of your own oven.
Check Your Inventory
Don’t wait until your guests arrive to find out that you don’t actually have enough wine glasses. Check to make sure you have enough flatware, serveware, and chairs before your guests walk through the door. You’ll be a lot less stressed when you know that there aren’t going to be any last-minute surprises.
Confirm Dietary Requirements
Cook Big-Batch Food
Don’t be tempted to cook dishes that require you to prepare individual portions for each person. Opt for food that can be made in big batches, like a stew, a casserole, a one-pot wonder, or a decadent salad. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress, and it means you can relax with your guests, rather than spending the whole evening searing steaks in the kitchen.
Don’t Cook Something New
A dinner party is not the right time to try out a new recipe, no matter how fabulous you think it sounds. Stick to an old staple you know well, and if you really do want to cook something you’ve just discovered the recipe for, practice it at least once before the day of your party so that you know it really works.
Invite Your Favorite People
You’re definitely going to be stressed about hosting your dinner party if you’ve invited a group of people you’re nervous about seeing, or who you don’t really want to spend time with. Invite your closest, most-loved friends, and the evening will be so much fun, no matter how the actual dinner turns out.
Keep Numbers Low
If you’re not a seasoned dinner party host, don’t invite the whole world to your home to eat. Keep the numbers low: A maximum of eight people is a good rule to stick by until you’ve overcome the beginner’s stress of feeding and entertaining a crowd.
Laugh Off Mistakes
If you slightly overcook something, if you spill some wine, or if the dish doesn’t look quite as beautiful as you had hoped it would, don’t start apologizing and getting upset. Your guests probably won’t even notice, unless you point it out to them, and even then they really won’t mind. Remember to not beat yourself up about your mistakes: They don’t matter.
Limit the Options
Don’t try to cook several different dishes. Starting with a range of appetizers, and then having two main dishes, multiple sides, and a choice of dessert is totally unnecessary. It’s a dinner party, not a restaurant, so people aren’t expecting a choice: Keep it simple, and people will love the food they are given.
Make Dessert First
Unless you decide to make soufflés for everyone (which we advise that you don’t), dessert can be made at least a day in advance. By getting this part out of the way, you’ll be able to really focus on the entrée, making the day and evening of the party much less stressful than it otherwise would have been.
Prepare Food in Advance
Besides baking dessert in advance, try to prepare as much of the rest of the meal as possible ahead of time. Sauces and dressings can normally be made the day before, vegetables can definitely be chopped in the morning, and salads can be combined, but not dressed, a few hours early. Plan carefully to minimize the work left to do during the party.
Room Temperature Appetizers
Serving appetizers that are meant to be eaten at room temperature buys you a lot of extra time to spend putting the finishing touches to the rest of the meal. Set the appetizers out, ready for when guests arrive, so they can help themselves, while you get on with whatever needs doing in the kitchen.
Serve Family Style
Don’t place yourself under extra stress by attempting to plate everyone’s dishes individually. Trying to arrange the ingredients so they look beautiful while also serving the food before it gets cold is asking too much of yourself. Save yourself time and effort and serve family style, allowing everybody to help themselves to the dishes on the table.
Set a Relaxed Tone
In order for your guests to relax and not be uptight and nervous, you need to set the right tone. Nothing puts people at ease, assuring them that they’re in for the most fun evening, more than a calm, cool, and collected host, whether that means opening the door in your slippers, or making sure you take the time to have a drink with the guests when they arrive.