Want to host a dinner party your friends will be talking about for years? Our do’s and don’ts to throwing a successful soirée will leave everyone wondering how you did it.
We’ve all been there. Dinner parties that feel more like a jail sentence than a charming soiree. Boring food, zero ambience, and uninteresting conversation. Guests are probably figuring out how to subtlety shimmy out the bathroom window rather than spend another minute at this crappy party.
Going the distance to creating a (favourably) memorable night doesn’t have to be taxing. As you’ll see from our do’s and don’ts listed below, tiny details can make a big impact.
The reason for throwing your bash could be as simple as Friday night cocktails, or as specific as Mary-Jo’s birthday, but giving your dinner a bit of context will help guide the food and beverage selection and keep your event on point.
Spice up your space from the everyday so it feels a bit special. At a minimum a few candles and fresh cut flowers will do the trick. This is also where your theme will help. If it’s a birthday bash, maybe you’re decorating all in Mary-Jo’s favourite colour. If your soirée is Friday night margaritas, perhaps you are lining the table with mini-cacti and floating candles in margarita glasses.
We give a nod here to our Patron Saint Ina Garten. The doyenne of dinner advises unlikely settings to add some pizazz to your party: picnics on the beach, fireside in the living room, garden…wherever she sees fit. Depending on what is available to you, rooftop patios, winding country driveways, or even front porches can all make for an interesting change of scenery – and interesting conversation.
This could simply be place cards in front of each item on the buffet table or borrowing the kids’ chalk board to write out the menu for all to see. If you want to get fancy, print out individual menus and include the dinner recipe on the flip side as a keepsake of the evening. Bonus: note items that are gluten free, vegan or nut free so guests can make informed choices.
Inevitably, someone is going to forget to mention that they hate tomatoes when you’ve gone to great pains to prepare a seasonal heirloom tomato salad. No biggie, whip them up a lettuce salad or offer them some cheese and olives as a starter. Whatever you do, don’t insist they try “just one bite,” or make them feel awkward for not liking a certain ingredient.
This doesn’t have to be a super complicated five-course extravaganza. A simple appetizer and dessert will suffice. And before you start sweating about timing, think make ahead: chilled gazpacho can be prepared and plated in advance and dessert can be an elegant yet simple cheese plate. Impressive and easy on both counts. Boom.
It’s annoying, but almost everyone’s got them. Ranging from deathly allergies to whimsical diet trends, observe your guests’ preferences and create a menu to suit everyone. (See “Stay Flexible” above).
We generally go by the guideline that most guests will have two drinks in the first hour and one every hour after that, but that is just a guideline – not a commandment. You know your crowd, so if you think you may need an extra bottle or two of wine, you probably do. Better safe than sorry.
There is no shame in picking up a cheesecake from a bakery, buying some pre made dips from the supermarket, or gabbing some Mexican take out. In fact, you will probably be saner for it and therefore a way more relaxed, – and fun – host.
Nothing says “party’s over” quicker than the absence of a host and the sound of clanking dishes in the kitchen. So, unless the party really is over, relax at the table and finish the wine and conversation with your friends. And even when it comes time to remove the plates, just leave them in the kitchen to be dealt with after guests have gone.