For the last three years I have been hosting a supper club in my Brooklyn, N.Y. apartment. Over this time period, I’ve made dinner for several hundred guests (friends and strangers) and I’ve been excited to help keep alive the art of cooking at home in this city where everyone loves eating out. While I enjoy bringing people together around food, I am not a trained chef and I have a full-time job, so getting dinner for 14 on the table by 8 p.m. on a weekday, after work, has been a challenge — yet a very rewarding one.
While supper clubs are popping up all over the place, I still receive more RSVPs for my suppers than I can accommodate. I think this is because people are seeking out unique and social dining experiences. So if you like to entertain and are up for the challenge, I encourage you join the growing community of supper clubs around the globe.
Thinking about starting your own supper club? Here are a few tips that I learned along the way to get you up on your feet and running.
1. Restaurant supply stores and flea markets are your friend.
One of the challenges in hosting large sit-down dinner parties is that more often than not, you don’t have the right equipment, like table settings for 14 people, sitting around (especially if you live in a small urban apartment, like me).
I’ve found that in addition to IKEA, my go-to standby that always has affordable kitchen and dining supplies, restaurant supply stores are another fabulous source for relatively inexpensive pots, pans, glassware, and dishes. In New York City, for example, the Bowery has a handful of such stores where you can pick up almost any kitchen tool or table setting imaginable. The prices are half of what I’ve found at Target, for similar items. There are also a few stores online, like Webstaurant.com, and if you’re ordering a multiple supplies at once, even with shipping, you’ll find savings. Flea markets are another great place to hunt down table settings. If you’re open to the eclectic look and don’t require matching settings, you can make off with some really great deals to get your kitchen and table stocked and ready for entertaining.
2. Assemble menus that minimize opportunities for things to go wrong.
a) No menus that leave you stuck in the kitchen searing fish when you have a table full of interesting and exciting guests in the next room.
b) No complicated dishes that involve techniques (like flambéing) that could potentially lead to kitchen “disasters.”
c) No last-minute prepping or cooking fussy dishes between courses. I’ve learned this over the years, and specifically remember the time I had to sear meat… between the flowing wine and chatting with guests, take it from me, it never ends well, especially if you aren’t a trained chef!
3. Think smart when planning the menu.
When hosting a dinner party, the only thing worse than running out of wine is having smoke billowing out of the kitchen and having alarms going off. And it's easy for that to happen if you've got 14 of something you've got to pan-fry with guests present.
Duck and steaks are notorious for getting a little smoky. Instead opt for something you can sear ahead of time and then finish off in the oven. Lamb chops are a great sear-ahead option. While I’ll make an exception for shrimp or scallops, which I’ll cook on the stovetop during the meal, I generally lean towards main courses that I can just pull out of the oven and carve or garnish.
I learned this all the hard way, a while back, when I tried pan-frying meatballs for a dinner party. Even though I cooked them (or... burned them) before the guests arrived, there was the lingering, faint aroma of smoke still in the air when guests arrived. Don’t write off meatballs just yet, though; this meatball recipe is a great alternative and requires baking instead of frying for an easier and healthier option.
In the end, your smart planning will pay off and you’ll have more time to spend with your guests!