Karen T. from Alabama emailed me recently with a couple of questions. I answered the first one regarding RSVP etiquette. Now, on to the second half. She wanted advice on throwing a dinner party. There are a lot of deciding factors that go into throwing one of these dinners. Use these and you will be able to figure out what works best for you.
1. How much space do you have? How many people does your table seat? My table seats up to ten people comfortably, so I usually stay between 6 and 8 for this.
2. How big is your kitchen? Do you have enough space to get all of this food together? My kitchen at the moment is a resemblance of a NYC apartment. Very little cabinet and countertop space, tight quarters, and doors that all bang into each other and don’t allow for opening more than one thing at a time. Frustrating, but I make it work. The more space you have, obviously, the easier it will be.
3. How much do you feel comfortable cooking? Do you feel that you can cook for 10 or would it be better to start with a smaller number? Do you have the cookware to accomplish this meal? Whatever you feel you can take on, go for it.
4. How much time will you have? Will you cook everything at the last minute or make some things that require some early prep? I recommend spacing out the time. If you start early, then you will have time to spend with your guests when they arrive and won’t be a slave to your stove. That’s why they call it entertaining. Also, something to think about is having extra help. Guests always ask what they can do to help. By all means, let them! Or maybe you have someone that could come by your house and give you a hand in cooking. A sibling, a parent, your child, perhaps a neighborhood child is looking to earn a little extra money or maybe you have a weekly house cleaner or helper that might be willing to help. (Asking a friend to help would be left to your own judgement. Make sure that person is not involved with the group at hand as to not hurt someone’s feelings for not being a part of the party).
5. Do you have enough place settings and serving pieces? Just make sure you have enough dishes to serve all of your guests the same thing. I.E. plates, bowls, glasses, stems, flatware, etc. If you don’t have enough serving pieces or enough room on the table, serve the plates from the kitchen and deliver them to your guests. A little pre-presentation effort is always a crowd pleaser.
6. Decor is something to think about, too. If you want a full table setting with cloth, flowers, candles, etc. By all means, do it. If you want to go simple and just use placemats, that is just fine also. Just make your table look put together and nice. Guests feel special with a warm touch to a table.
7. Meal plan. This is as broad as the Chattahooche River. (This should be a post on its own). Lots of factors to consider here besides the aforementioned. Budget, tastes, allergies, vegan/vegetarian, occasion, etc. What’s the occasion- just a Sunday dinner or holiday? How much can you spend on this meal? Are you on a chicken, rice, and salad budget this week or are you shooting for swordfish, pearl cous cous, and lots of vegetables? What about drinks? Alcohol or not? Who’s coming to dinner? Know your guests special needs. If you would like some menus, I can provide some.
8. What can someone else bring? Unless you’re doing potluck, it’s probably best to refrain from asking your guests to provide anything too complicated. Have them bring a bottle of wine or an appetizer or a loaf of bread to accompany the meal. However, there’s always an exception- if someone insists on preparing a dish, you are at total liberty to accept. It will save you time and money.
9. One last point to consider is level of difficulty. I recommend keeping some dishes easy. Having all the components at a high level of difficulty will make for a strained host and hostess. Let some dishes take center stage and have others as a support to the meal.
Let me know how your dinner parties are coming! What worked and what didn’t? Cheers. Olivia