The doorbell rings, your guests arrive and you’re still desperately stuffing individually bacon-wrapped quails. Then you disappear halfway through dinner, breaking into a cold sweat as you frantically whip egg whites for that ‘needs-to-be-perfect’ soufflé.
If you love dinner parties but the thought of hosting one fills you with terror, this is the guide for you.
We’ve taken a step-by-step approach to planning and executing the perfect dinner party, from creating a menu to making sure the evening is as stress-free as possible.
Step 1: Plan ahead, and strategically
The key to the perfect dinner party lies in strategic planning. Keep it simple, play to your strengths and think about how to use your time and space properly.
Are you aiming for a relaxed and casual vibe? A selection of tapas enjoyed around the kitchen island could be perfect for a relaxed evening soiree – providing you have enough bar stools. But if your ambitions are a little loftier, you’ll need to consider everything from the invites to the table plan.
Pro Tip: Schedule your dinner party for a weeknight to purposefully give yourself less time to prepare. It’ll force you to strategize during the week. Friday night works brilliantly as guests will be relaxed, willing to stay late, and looking forward to the weekend.
Before creating a menu, make sure to ask your guests about any allergies or dietary restrictions. It’s a thoughtful thing to do and saves them (and you) from embarrassment on the night.
As much as you might want that ‘wow’ factor, trying out that elaborate new dish you saw on MasterChef could quickly become a recipe for disaster. And if it involves complicated processes on the night it could take your attention away from making sure your guests are happy.
Instead, delicious one-pot meals, family-style platters and crock-pot wonders make both cooking and plating up easy. Add plenty of sides to round off the meal.
Pro Tip: Choose to make either homemade appetisers or homemade cocktails, rather than both. Stress-free appetisers include cured meats served with toasted bread and olives, breadsticks with an array of dips, and spicy roasted nuts.
Step 3: Carefully craft your guest list
There’s nothing more awkward than a dinner party where nobody gets along. If the only common link between your guests is you it might make for an overly-polite, uncomfortable evening.
When choosing guests, pick groups of friends that already enjoy hanging out socially. Feel free to invite a couple of people new to the group – but make sure you introduce them to everyone when they arrive and point out things they have in common with the other guests.
Keep in mind how many people you can conceivably accommodate around your dining table. If you don’t have enough chairs, now’s the time to make sure you do. Folding dining chairs can save the day when it comes to unexpected plus-ones.
Pro Tip: If you’re keen to show-off your impeccable taste, spectacular cooking skills and brand-new leather dining chairs, keep your guest list minimal – between eight to ten people – to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Step 4: Start earlier than you need to
Time always flies when you’re expecting guests. To prevent running around ragged during the last half hour, check in advance that you have the ingredients, serving dishes, pots and pans to create the meal you’ve got planned.
Start cooking an hour or two before you need to – you may need the extra time to get everything done.
Pro Tip: Give your home a quick inventory ahead of time to make sure you have enough plates, cutlery, wine glasses, napkins and dining chairs to accommodate everyone.
Step 5: Pre-prep is your friend
Do as much as possible in advance, including pre-prepping the day before by chopping up veggies, cleaning and marinating meat, whipping up salad dressings and getting your condiments ready to serve. You can make dessert up to three days in advance – cheesecakes, mousses and tarts are all brilliant make-ahead options.
Pro Tip: Clean as you go so it’s easier to stay organised and keep your kitchen looking its best – which also means less to do before your guests arrive.
Step 6: Create atmosphere with your décor
Aside from the delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen, your guests will notice your home décor and presentation as they walk in. Think simple, convenient, relaxed and calming.
A low-lying flower arrangement dotted with unscented votive candles looks beautiful against wooden dining chairs and tables, and allow guests to communicate with ease during dinner.
Pro Tip: Make sure everyone has enough space to move their arms and elbows with ease. Ensure any extra chairs you find around the house are comfortable and in good working order before offering to guests. You may want to pick up a couple of fabric dining chairs in advance - the right chairs work beautifully as occasional chairs for your bedroom or hallway when not being used for extra guests at the extending dining table.
Step 7: Be flexible, loose and forgiving
A happy, relaxed host makes for happy, relaxed guests. This means not taking yourself or your dinner party too seriously, and taking anything that goes wrong in your stride. Be flexible if your guests bring friends and be forgiving of yourself if things don’t go perfectly to plan.
Pro Tip: All your guests want is to eat well, drink merrily and unwind – tick those boxes, and you’ve got yourself the perfect dinner party!