When having guests over to dinner, most of us hope the evening will look like the picture above: smiling guests, attractive food, great view, and plenty of social lubrication in the form of a rather decent vintage.
So why do so many dinner parties wind up resembling something more like this:
or worse yet this:
I honestly don’t know why that is. Sure, some parties are always going to be better than others, which, by default, means some will also be worse than others. Still, it doesn’t take much to make sure yours isn’t terrifyingly horrible. Take just a few simple tips from me and you’ll never again have cause to seriously regret a dinner party you throw.
Keep It Simple. Don’t overwhelm yourself trying to do more than you reasonably can. Dinner doesn’t have to be Dinner from the French Laundry cookbook to be worth eating. I’d much rather eat a simple roast chicken or a quick pasta dish prepared really well than something fancier that didn’t turn out because it was beyond the reach of the cook involved.
Let yourself off the hook a bit by serving a quick antipasto dish for appetizers made up of olives, cheese, etc. you pick up from a really good deli instead of fussy things you have to make at the last minute. Even Mark Bittman tosses together a nice plate of deli treats for his casual dinner parties, and often roasts a chicken for dinner. Little fuss, little muss + a relaxed host = a fun atmosphere guests can enjoy.
Try It Out First. The corollary to the rule above is to do things you already know you can do successfully. If you’ve never done the dishes you plan to serve before, try them out first to make sure you know what you’re doing and that you can turn it out in the time you think you can. Oh, and that you have enough oven space and burners for the menu you’re planning!
Do Everything You Can In Advance. Again, this is about keeping you cool so you can concentrate on enjoying and entertaining your guests. It also means you have more time to spend doing this, because much of the cooking is already out of the way. You just need to put some last-minute touches on the whole shebang.
After all, if you’re whirling around at the last minute making crepes, you can’t go spend time in the living room with your guests.
Everything Doesn’t Need To Be Perfect. Maybe you don’t have enough matching plates for everyone. Maybe one of the good napkins has a small stain on it. Maybe your cobra and mongoose neighbors choose the evening of your dinner party to hold one of their legendary knock down drag out battles.
So you borrow a couple plates from another set – or even a good friend, make sure you put the stained napkin at your own place, and close the windows when the neighbors start hurling toasters at one another. Er… maybe at that point you ought to report the incident to the police, just in case someone’s getting killed. Still. Handle it all as calmly as possible. A year from now, chances are nobody will remember a couple mismatched plates unless you make a big deal out of it right now. Never ever start moaning about what went wrong or what didn’t turn out precisely as you had hoped in front of your guests.
Consider The Needs Of Your Guests. Look, people have food issues. It’s a fact of life. Whether it’s a case of a religious or moral restriction, allergies, or simple dislike, it’s thoughtful to consider what your guests won’t want to see on their plates. If there’s one vegetarian at your table, or one teetotaller, or one person who needs to keep gluten-free to stay well, it’s easy enough to make sure there’s plenty for that person to eat without making that person feel singled out or like they’ve given you too much trouble. You can quietly take that person aside before dinner is served to let them know what they don’t want to eat, if the food is served family style.
Invite People Who Really Enjoy Food. Look, we all have friends who only eat to live. I’m not saying to ignore them or cut them out of your life, but are these really the people you want to feed? By the same token, if you’ve got food snobs in your life who are more concerned with the price or rarity of the ingredients than how the food actually tastes, wait to invite them to the highest rated restaurant in your area. For dinner parties, you want people who enjoy eating and can appreciate food even if it isn’t jewel-encrusted Dodo eggs with spatchcocked Spotted Owl.
Good dinner guests will appreciate the effort that went into a really excellent homemade pie or a tasty stew… and they’ll let you know it.
Oh, and when it’s your turn to be invited out to dinner, just be sure not to follow the advice given in this article from the Lamest.com. Your host will thank you profusely.