Easy Dinner Party Ideas
First-time hosts often cite their lack of experience, fearing that what they serve will disappoint their guests. But, wait—remember those 7 million results when you Google “dinner party checklist? You will not be the first, or last, novice cook to host a dinner party.
The prospect of a dinner party can be daunting for guests as well as hosts. Everyone has a memory of being invited to a dinner that became a party of 50 sharing chips and dip, or one whose host and hostess disappeared into the kitchen, ignoring their guests while preparing the meal.
In either case, as guests, we all know the time comes nigh for us to reciprocate. The question is whether hosting a party becomes an obligation or a pleasure. In truth, having a plan can make the difference between a fun, easy gathering and your personal version of Kitchen Nightmares.
The first step is to begin with the end in mind. What is your style? Who are your guests? What are the expectations for the evening? I find that planning the work in three separate parts–staging, shopping, and preparation–helps me divide and conquer. If you need inspiration to create a checklist, don’t fret. Just Google “dinner party checklist” and browse the 7 million results; you’re sure to find one that suits you.
Staging the event includes planning who to invite, what you’ll serve, and how formal or casual the evening will be. Common sense is the key; go with your strong points. Do you prefer a small intimate group or the energy of a large crowd?
Staging also includes setting a timeline for household chores. You’ll want to make sure your kitchen is clean and well organized, as well as having your home tidy, with bathrooms guest ready. According to the season, set aside a place for boots and coats, whether it’s a hall closet or a bedroom. Seating arrangements need to be made, depending upon whether the dinner is formal and sit down or casual on the deck or patio. If you plan an outdoor party, create a backup plan to move indoors if the weather fails to cooperate.
Shopping is dictated by your choice of menu and décor. Food choices should include items at peak season, with appetizers and side dishes that complement and contrast with your main course. In warm weather, a mixed grill calls for appetizers of crisp chilled veggies with hummus or salsa, or a light and refreshing shrimp cocktail; a cold-weather meal of stew or roasted meat can be paired with a good cheese with fresh grapes, or an assortment of marinated olives and a bowl of mixed nuts.
The advantage of planning ahead and making lists means you can shop several days in advance. This will eliminate the crazy-making last-minute store runs for those few, but necessary, ingredients that escaped your attention. My favorite go-to recipes can be prepped, then cooked or reheated the last hour before dinner is served. Roasted vegetables can be made during cocktail hour; steamed and sautéed veggies can be put together just before dinner is served. Baked desserts can go in the oven as you sit down to dinner. (Hint: Stash a supply of frozen veggies, sauces and baked goods to use in a pinch, in case a dish ends up overcooked or burned). When you are armed with a game plan, each course–appetizers, main dish, side dishes and dessert–can be knocked out a day or two in advance, which means you’ll have more time to spend with your guests.
Arriving guests always feel welcome when offered appetizers and something to drink. Cocktail options should be noted; if you plan to serve only wine or beer, say so. You may opt for a signature drink (such as sangria or margaritas in the summer, spiced cider or eggnog in the fall and winter). If you plan to offer a fully stocked bar, make sure you have the needed glassware (tall and short glasses, wine glasses); plenty of ice; mixers (tonic and soda); and garnish (lemons, lime, olives). Remember to offer non-alcoholic options, such as mineral water, soda and juice. If you can, enlist a friend to tend to bartending chores so you can focus on other tasks.
First-time hosts often cite their lack of experience, fearing that what they serve will disappoint their guests. But, wait—remember those 7 million results when you Google “dinner party checklist? You will not be the first, or last, novice cook to host a dinner party. Make your meal perfectly simple. Who wouldn’t love a make-your-own taco buffet, with taco shells brimming with savory meats or grilled fish, beans, avocado, cheese, lettuce and spicy pico de gallo? Add Mexican beer or margaritas for adult beverages. A make-your-own pizza bar offering varied sauces, meats, veggies and cheese can be served with a green salad and Italian wine. Informal meals allow guests to mingle, serve themselves, sit and visit, or watch sports on TV.
If you’re in doubt, go with these wise words from Julia Child: “You don’t have to cook fancy, complicated masterpieces, just good food from fresh ingredients.” Bon Appétit!