A dinner party is a sophisticated affair; the setting of boozy revelations and great memories. But, if not done right, a dinner party can be disastrously awkward and offer up a platter of food that is both burned and undercooked.
To make sure you don’t make any dinner party faux pas, I have put together a check-list on how to prep for the evening and some extra dinner party ideas. Here’s hoping yours goes smoothly!
Create a guest list
Your guest list largely depends on the occasion of your dinner party. Do you want a small dinner party with your neighbours to flex your culinary and hosting skills? Or, is it your birthday and you want to invite everyone in your phonebook?
Guest lists can be tricky as dinner parties can be very intimate. We all have certain friends who can’t be grouped together without a conflict of interest, or worst, fully-fledged drama. However, for a larger occasion, the general rule is this: none of your guests should know everyone at the table, but everyone should know at least one other person. This way, new social dynamics breed interesting conversation, and things will be kept exciting.
You must also take into consideration plus ones. You don’t want to invite a single Bridget Jones to your ‘married couples’ evening (anyone else remember that scene?) Even numbers are a safe bet, mostly because of seating arrangement (you don’t want to seat a guest on a corner with a table leg between theirs).
Whether you want to kick it old school and send out hard-copy invites (the retro vibe is definitely appreciated by me), or whether you send E-invites (this is 2018, after all. In fact, a simple text message will even suffice), make sure to let your guests know at least a month before the occasion – you want to give people (and yourself) enough notice.
Remember to ask your guests to RSVP ASAP. If you’re really going full Martha Stewart for your dinner party, you might have a B-guest list ready on standby in case any of your top-tier friends can’t make it.
Plan, plan, plan
There are a lot of dinner party ideas to think about. You might want to get a diary for this.
Planning is the key to any successful event. The level of meticulous planning shouldn’t be dissimilar to a military operation, and you should start early. The things you must think about are as follows:
Create a menu
You should have a rough idea of what food you want to serve before you plan for a dinner party. What’s your speciality? What do you want to eat?
Don’t try to be too fancy either. Believe it or not, the food isn’t the be-all, end-all of a dinner party, so if you’re not a master-chef and aren’t sure you can handle the pressure of 3 courses, serving homemade pizza with a couple bottles of red wine is totally fine.
However, it is of the utmost importance that you check your guests’ dietary requirements. Not doing so could spell disaster.
Also, tell your guests not to bring anything (unless the whole point of the dinner requires it), so you can have complete control of the food, the kitchen, and the fridge space.
Once you have your menu solidly in place, you should practice making it. This may only be necessary if you’re performing a juggling act of multiple dishes and need to work out timings and whether or not you have the correct kitchen utensils. (Cue another Bridget Jones reference: avoid blue soup-gate).
Be sure to buy all of your groceries 1-2 days before the event. This way the produce is fresh and you have no shopping to do the day-of. That day that should be reserved only for preparing the food/the house/yourself and emergency supermarket dashes.
Experienced dinner party hosts will know that dessert should be prepared the day before the event, as it often needs time to cool/set/decorate, and ice cube trays should be filled with plenty of time to ice. One last thing: to avoid ending up like the frazzled people on Come Dine with Me, cook what you know, and make it well. Don’t get carried away or try any daring moves on the night. It won’t end well.
For tips on what wine to pair with food, see my guide here.
Create a playlist (or a few)
Create a dinner party playlist. Music sets the vibe. Keep it chilled and at a low volume at the start of the night, and move to more upbeat party songs as the night gets long. (Tip: past 11pm, intoxicated people love to listen to epic throwback anthems that they can sing along to and reminisce about the ‘good old times’.)
Decide on your outfit
Realistically, you won’t have hours spare to pamper on the day. So, have your dress ready, and don’t back out.
Create a stage
Ok, not a stage, but a set. Dress the room where your dinner party will take place. Don’t just put some flowers on the table, consider the whole Feng Shui of your space. Decorate bookshelves, coffee tables, light some candles, artfully spread some magazines, create warm lighting. Atmosphere is as important as the food.
And don’t neglect the cleanliness of the rest of your house. People will use your bathroom and have a nosey peer into other areas of your house on the way back. Leave no stone unturned.
Dinner party etiquette
There are some unspoken rules that should be abided by at a dinner party…
When guests arrive, welcome and entertain
It is a dinner party faux pas to open the door to excited guests, only to dash off to the kitchen at lightening speed, leaving them to introduce themselves. You should be so prepared – with dishes prepped, cooked and kept warm – that when guests arrive you can welcome them properly, pour them a drink, introduce them to the group, and join in with conversation, excusing yourself only momentarily to bring out appetisers and more wine.
A toast at the table will set the tone for the rest of the night, so keep it short and sweet. A simple, “Thank you for coming – here’s to a good evening” will suffice. Or, if there are a lot of people there who don’t know each other, try, “To good friends, old and new!” This will create a sense of unity and encourage people to mingle.
The progression of the evening
Keep the alcohol and snacks coming long after the show has ended. Perhaps the worst thing is that you run out of wine, or beer, or hard liquor, so be fully stocked up on everything, including provisions like limes, ice, juice to mix and coffee. Luckily, dinner party guests seldom turn up to a dinner party empty handed, so there’ll be plenty of bottles flying around.
Be in it for the long haul
Don’t be afraid for things to get messy. Your guests will have been waiting for this night for a month and have given up their precious weekend for it. So, let them let their hair down! If the house is mess the morning after, it’s the sign of a good night.
If you don’t manage to complete anything on this list as you’d hoped, just remember one thing: have fun! Your friends won’t really care about any fancy dinner party endeavours, after all. Or, your cooking skills, the creases in your dress or the messy tresses falling out of your up-do. As long as your attitude is good and the vibe is right, everyone will be more than happy to spend their evening with you.
And remember, if all else fails, you can always cancel dinner and head to delicious brunch spot in Sydney instead!
If you liked this you should also check out my guide on the top 10 things to do in Sydney over the winter period!