I threw my first dinner party at the tender age of twenty-four & I was such a nervous wreck. It was a simple menu (filet mignon, garlic mashed potato & rosemary bread with a caprese salad to start), but the overall preparation of the meal and getting the house ready took me at least a week. As soon as everyone was seated around J and my new dining table & chairs (that we had purchased) things just fell into place. I believe, a great dinner party should be about the feeling you get when your surrounded by great friends eating great food. Although I am still relatively new at hosting events at my home, I wanted to share some tried and true tips that I have found for those several occasions that have really helped me pull things together!
#1 Tone: As a hostess, it is your responsibility to make everyone in your home feel comfortable and relaxed. Not to mention, you should also be comfortable and relaxed, it is your home by the way. If you’re running around flustered because the Hor’derves haven’t been passed around yet or you haven’t had a chance to talk to everyone yet…even though the party started five minutes ago, your guests are going to feel like they’re an inconvenience. Try to focus on putting out relaxed energy that reveals how happy you are to have people over. It’s okay if you haven’t had a chance to mingle with everyone as soon as they walk in the door, you have time to make up the missed time later. I always like to slip into my “go-to” outfit that always makes me feel comfortable. I also feel that the outfit changes depending on the event, if it is a small gathering of friends I like to go barefoot but if it’s a larger birthday or New Years party, some cute flats or heels do the trick!
#2 Lighting: Lighting is a key part in setting the mood for a dinner party. I believe that you should always have several sources of lights that are on dimmers set at various level throughout the home. The goal is to have the light distributed light evenly creating a soft, ambient glow. If you want to use candles, I say go for it but be careful. I tend to light a scented candle in the bathroom (depending on the season, the scent will change). As for the main rooms, you should always stick to unscented candles so it doesn’t interfere with the food. Because lets face it, nothing beats a great home cooked meal scent when someone walks through the door!
# 3 Be Prepared: If your like me, this next tip is really important when hosting a party. When people first arrive, don’t feel like you have to have everything finished. Most often, you will still be cooking the main course, plating the salad or finishing off the bread when people come over. Not having everything ready exactly at seven o’clock creates a friendly environment that doesn’t feel rigid. However, there are some things though that I always have ready ahead of time: music playing, drinks are chilled and appetizers are available for whom ever wants them.
#4 Keep it Simple: We all want to be a Giada De Laurentiis when serving and displaying our meals that we worked so hard on. So when putting together your plates, keep a key tip in mind. They should be visually appealing, but not intimidating. Don’t be afraid to snack a bit before your guests arrive. For instance if you have a cheese plate, eat a few olives and leave the pits in the discard bowl & have some cheese already sliced. This helps your guests feel more comfortable when they come over and are wanting to munch on some snacks before the main course. Because we all know how much you hate to be “the first person” to eat, if you already have a plate out and your munching on it, others will be more likely to do the same.
#5 Place cards: Most of the time my events are pretty casual with the exception of New Years, Holidays and the Oscars. I love the idea of using place cards. This might seem old fashion but it can make any regular night with friends a bit more upscale even if there are takeout boxes everywhere. Place cards also help to ensure that the table will be evenly spaced out and helps spark good conversation, especially if your inviting several groups of friends/family who don’t know each other that well.
#6 Timing: I believe that the timing of an event or dinner party has a lot to do with what you are going to be serving. A simple key rule I like to follow is that from the time people arrive, to the point when everyone is sitting down for dinner, this should be around 45 minutes apart. This allows guests time to snack on some appetizers, have a beverage of their choice, and mingle with others that are at the party. Furthermore, you shouldn’t be stuck in the kitchen the entire time ignoring your guests so that means staying away from meals that are time consuming and need your undecided attention.
Clean ahead of time: J and I are a neat freak couple anyways but I feel like we go above and beyond when it comes to cleaning our place when we have guests over. I try to have fresh cut flowers in our main room and good smelling candles lit in the bathroom and the office where our cat has her toys, liter box, and food. Since our floor plan is pretty open and our kitchen connects to our living and dining room we try to clean as we cook, that way the sink is spotless. I hate clutter, especially in the sink, so I have a habit of cleaning as I go. Now, I won’t start the dishwasher until everyone has left for the evening so that the fun an energetic atmosphere isn’t interrupted with bangs of the dishwasher.
The next morning: I can’t ever go to bed without a clean kitchen and I’d say J could totally pass out if there is a dish or two in the sink. However, after a few glasses of wine and great food in my stomach sometimes cleaning the kitchen just isn’t appealing. I would say, instead of dreading the clean up time that night or even that morning, just simply to do some minor prep work before you go to bed. For example, we always soak our wine glasses and any pots or pans that might have baked on food, that way in the morning you don’t have to scrub, scrub, scrub the pans to make them pristine!. Just make sure you don’t soak the glassware in the same pot as a heavy stained dish. Example… Don’t put your glassware in soaking in the same dish you baked pasta with red sauce… or else your glasses will be stained. Trust me, I’ve done this before… bad move on my part!