Entertaining, in theory, should be fun and stress-free…you usually choose the company; there are plenty of libations, and good conversation. So why do we find ourselves so frazzled and anxious even before that gourmet entrée takes a turn for the worst or that extra guest shows up unannounced? If this scenario sounds familiar, here are some simple tips and tricks for organizing a stress-free dinner party.
Easy Does it. Find a simple recipe that you can organize ahead of time. If you’re a thrill seeker, it may be fun for you to try a new recipe, but if you need to keep your nerves in check, it’s best to cook a dish that has shown success in the past. Choose a “one-pot-wonder,” or single dish that includes your main source of protein, maybe some type of grain, and veggies. Stews and baked dishes are great for the winter. Cold pastas or infused grain dishes are perfect during the summer season. If you’re lucky enough to have a significant other who knows how to barbecue, have them grill up some meat or fish, while you focus on a couple tasty sides. If you plan to serve a salad, make the dressing ahead of time (even the day before so the flavors have time to marinate) and prep all other ingredients so you can easily throw everything together
Note: Always prepare a bit extra, there’s nothing worse than doling out a dish only to realize you’re short on food.
Guest list. Decide on a comfortable number of guests to invite. Most guests won’t show up empty handed to a dinner party, whether you instruct them to or not. If you are a super-host and like to do everything yourself, request that your guests bring a beverage of their choice. If you welcome support, ask them to bring an appetizer or side dish of their choice.
Set a Time. Whatever time may work for you, factor in that your guests may arrive early (how rude!) or late. If you have a group of people coming over, they may show up at different times so it’s best to have a light appetizer and beverages available. Make sure you give yourself more time than you think to get your meal fully prepped, yourself ready and your home organized.
Photo via Local Milk
Prepare ahead of time. Minimalize any tasks the day of your dinner party. Shop for all groceries and do the bulk of your cleaning and organizing the day before. If possible, plan dinner on a day when you are completely free. Find time to exercise early in the day or set aside some personal time to relax.
Set your table ahead of time. It may sound old fashion, circa 1950s, but setting the table can seriously save you time--strangely enough, it also gets you into the hosting mood. Instead of putting out plates and dinnerware during the party, you can use that time to socialize with your guests. Also, if you enjoy exercising your creative liberty, it can be fun to arrange an eclectic centerpiece, or place a small bouquet of herbs above or around each place setting.
Relax and enjoy. If you prepare ahead of time, you will be able to greet your guests and spend the rest of the evening enjoying their company. Remember, nobody else will be worried about the little imperfections you may notice or stress about. When you reflect on a good dinner party that you've attended or hosted, it’s always about great company, conversation, and plenty of wine!