Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Having Your First Ever Dinner Party? How To Tips and Hints

Having Your First Ever Dinner Party?

Maybe you have even tried them in the past and are afraid of doing it again. Why? It’s so easy and so much fun! It’s a lot easier than you would think too! There are though a few good points to know and have under your belt to help make your next dinner party a success.

First of all, why have a dinner party to begin with? It’s cheaper than going to a restaurant, you decide how you want the party to go, and even if you not the best cook, you can still have a lot of fun as will your guests.

I have recently found several couples which we have now started rotating every two weeks at the others’ place for dinner. We all have great laughs, maybe even play a silly game such as scattagories which require group effort, mandatory uncontrolled laughs while the coffee and tea is being made.

So you want to have a party…
Please allow me to share some ideas with you that I have found to be hugely successful when creating my next dinner party.

These important tasks and tips when hosting your first dinner party will have a huge effect on the actual success of your party. As I have had too many dinner parties to count at this point, it has become one of my more favorite ways to entertain not only for myself but for others as well. I find my friends keep asking me when my next party is, since everyone has such a good time at my parties – and why is that? For following these few and simple rules.

Being Organized
This is quite frankly the best advice I can give right off the start. I recently, during this last holiday season had three parties only days apart – and it felt like I was doing extra amount of dishes everyday, but each party went extremely well and since some of the guests that came were to be at one or more of these parties, I carefully prepared each party menu so as not to repeat myself with the food menu or themes. In fact I planned each menu and grocery list simultaneously and a extra good time was had by all, including me!

Planning Your Party Stage
First grab a pad of paper and a good pen, sitting down with some coffee or tea and being relaxed, look at your calendar and choose a date far enough in the future to be able to plan everything you think you may need. Give yourself at least two weeks if not more if this is your first dinner party.

Make a list of guests you are willing to feed.

  • Take in consideration the type of personalities that may show up. Try not to mix the heavy drinkers that you know with the non-drinking ones, as example, since this can create awkward environments for all. This may sound silly, but personalities count in having a successful party.
  • Will children be allowed? And who will watch them and even entertain them if they will be a part of the dinner party. (Personally, though I love kids, but at Dinner Parties, not always since this is a time when adults are allowed to be adults – maybe have a babysitter and place the kids in one of the other guests’ homes that are close by for a fun all kid get together.

Decide what sort of party you would like.

  • Will it be a sit down? Will it be a pot luck? Will it have a theme to it (say an Asian feel, since the Chinese New Year is coming up) or revolve around a game of sorts on the TV? All these factors will play into what you might like to serve at your party.
  • Another type of theme could be the type of food - say all French if doing the beef dish as beef bourgeinon.
  • Decorate with images you can find on the internet and print out on your printer to help theme be decorated through out your house. You do not need a lot of money for this...use your imagination - and heck, get the kids involved.
  • You can also simply choose one color to help create a party theme feel, say red and pink for the upcoming Valentine’s Day or Green for say St. Patrick's Day, or light pastel colors for Easter.
  • Choosing one or two colors make their point best, then choose linens, flowersm papered napkins to reflect the colors you chose and place them around will really set your place looking like yo u are a complete designer you knew inside you already were!

Make a list of foods you might like to serve at your party

  • This is not a final list of course, but to use as a starting point. Maybe you have seen recipes on the Food Network channel on TV that you would like to try.
  • I usually do a combo for a sit down, having some finger foods to get the party when people arrive and getting the party rolling while what ever I am cooking or roasting is warming, resting, finishing up or being reheated before dinner is served.
  • This will allow your guests who may have come super hungry to have a little bite to eat.

Decide what sorts of drinks you may want to serve

  • There are a variety of budget-friendly alternatives that will help “stretch-out” liquor should you decide to serve any.
  • I like to present my guests with several options when they enter the “party area” of your home. Having drinks already prepared and ready to be poured help create your party theme right from the start: casual, elegant, theme-based, whatever!
  • Create a party "punch" of some sort or specialty drink - have them ready in a pitcher as people arrive such as pretty sangria that helps stretch "the wine" when budgets are tight.
  • Have pretty glasses that never get used decorated with little umbrellas or cut up fruit slices on a stir straw for extra impact.
  • Have a non-alcohol version of drink available too so that drivers can feel the fun as well without worrying about getting people home safe.


  • Don’t forget the candles either, incense can be too strong for certain noses, but simple candles (being careful of pets of course and little kids especially) help create the atmosphere.
  • You can also switch out some of your light bulbs for interesting colored light bulbs – everyone looks great in pink

Preparing for your Party

What's Next To Do

  • Now that you have your guest list figured out, your theme selected and what sort of party you are throwing, send out those invitations.
  • Kindly ask guests to RSVP within one week prior of your set date to have the party so that you can get all the needed ingredients for your party in time without getting too much food.

Finalize your menu

  • Look at what you think you might like to serve at the party as food.
  • Have you tried these recipes before? I highly recommend doing dishes you have tried before and you have received compliments on, this is not necessarily the best time to do dishes that require a high-level of expertise and experience in cooking with odd ingredients that might cost you and arm and a leg leaving you no money left for alcohol and drinks or even party favors.
  • Create dishes that you know are already successful and crowd-pleasers.
  • You will have more fun at your own party and be more confident in what you are serving.
  • Simply decorate the dishes possibly a little more elaborately than you normally would with parsley, mint or basil sprigs and serve on those pretty platters you never get to use.

A Side story – my mother years ago used a caterer for a extra special event– and chose to hire a very well known caterer from Westchester, N.Y., but it was my mother who created the menu- the caterer owner was very surprised at my mom’s requesting some of the simplest of dishes – not only what it a huge success, the caterer owner then did an article in the New York Times commenting on how her clients were now requesting old-fashioned comfort foods – (our family only smiled knowing we were one of the reasons she said such a thing in the article – the owner knew this event was a huge success as well) – Point being, your menu does not have to be elaborate at all. If you make amazing mashed potatoes and meatloaf – then do that! Seriously!

Review your recipes from your dishes

  • are there any ingredients, especially spices that you will need to get in order to prepare these dishes – remember spices are costly, and keep that figure in your mind when preparing your menu.
  • When creating your menu, pay attention to any special detail like special cookware you might need, the required timing for when you should start and make the dishes paying attention to time when finished, if it can be reheated and monies needed for such.
  • I like to print out my menu for the guests who now have become accustomed and get a huge kick at looking at the menu (it’s also a conversation breaker in the beginning)
  • By having the menu handy for guests to read, I do this to also avoid anyone having issues with any guest who may have allergies I am not aware of - so many people are extra sensitive these days. Also make at least one or two side veggie never know whose a vegetarian these days, either.
  • Create your list of ingredients you will need for your party. Why set yourself to freak out the day of your party when the cake fell or you didn't have a last minute ingredient you forgot you needed?

Organize your grocery list

  • Plan to purchase your greens only one or two days before since that broccoli will certainly look horrid if you purchased two weeks before for example. Who wants icky looking broccoli?!?
  • Serving meat? If you are need a special cut such as a crown roast (super easy to do!) You will need to ask your butcher to order one for you. That’s what they are there for, in fact, you can easily ask them for ideas too what to serve. And don’t forget your fish monger either!
  • Breads? Purchase the day of your party which includes any desserts you may serve that you are not making yourself.
  • Don't forget to add ice, flowers, papered napkins for the bathroom, and toothpicks to your grocery list.

Cooking and preparation

  • Several days and on the day before your party, do as much as you can in preparing your meals and dishes since this will allow you the time to clean and decorate your house and have fun the day of your party. Remember you are to have fun!

Cleaning House

  • Clean the bathroom your guests will use. If you want, purchase pretty colored napkins for people to wipe their hands with. Make sure you have some nice lqiod hand soap too, since today people seem to prefer to use that.
  • Clean your kitchen too, since inevitably people will come into this area to help you (let them!)
  • And clean the areas the gusts will see, such as the front hall when they first come in and the living room and dining room areas.
  • In a jam? Simply throw everything into a guest bedroom or closet, no one will know! Though I usually use entertaining as the reason to clean up my house!
  • Coats, decide where these are going to hang or be placed. Your bed is a great place too if you have limited closet space. - So you may want to spruce up your bedroom too if this is the case with your coat placements.
Almost Ready -What to Do the Day before and Day of Your Party

Day Before Your Party
  • Decorate the day before, choose your linens and colors if you haven’t already.
  • Check dishes and platters you have decide to use, are there any that are dusty from non-use? Throw them in the dishwasher or hand wash accordingly, so that everything will look extra pretty – this goes for those drinking glasses you got from your Aunt Alison last year you never use.
  • Choose the music you will want to have. Remember as the evening goes, so should the music. So start with pleasing music as people arrive, reving it up a bit during the appetizer and drink time, then calming it down for dinner time and lastly, maybe bringing it up a notch while serving desserts and coffee and playing any board games you might have thought of trying.
  • Review your grocery list. Are there any items you still haven’t already purchased?
  • Buy your flowers and set them out so they open for tomorrow. I also like to put a few flowers in unexpected places like the bathroom and front hall so that they carry the theme I have chosen – even if the theme is simply colored based.
  • Review your cooking times and set up a schedule for today’s tasks and tasks for tomorrow on the day of your party.
  • Make any dips that are sour-creamed base.
  • Make any dishes like salsa, chili, chowder or anything you are making that you know tastes better the next day.
  • Cut up any veggies you may use in crudite – but put them in a zip lock bag filled with some ice cubes and place into fridge. Then tomorrow, you will only have to place them on a platter and you will be ready to go.
  • Prepare any dishes or at least set them up – those that can be made but not cooked the day before, say for example stuffing, caserole dishes, etc.
  • Do any last minute cleaning you might have forgotten about.
  • Choose your linens, make sure the glasses, dishes and platers you have choses are clean and ready to use.
  • Prepare your specialty drinks expect for the added soda, seltzers or alcohol and ice. Placing them in the fridge will help save you time tomorrow.

Day of Your Party

  • Why all this planning and preparing? So you can enjoy your dinner party of course!
  • If you are stuck in the kitchen, your guests will have to entertain themselves which can be awkward if there are a few newbies in the group.
  • Buy your last remaining fresh ingredients like the bread and vegetables.
  • Buy more ice than you think you need, especially true in the summer season.
  • Buy your flowers in you didn’t get them yesterday (you should have) to allow them to open in time for your party. Even a flowering plant is pretty. I like to put several around the house with one color using them to enhance my theme.
  • Prepare any appetizers you might need such as crudite.
  • Set out any cheese you will be serving at least one hour before your guests arrive, since cheese should be served at room temperature which is also when it tastes at its best.
  • Light any candles 10 minutes before guests are to arrive, and put on music.
  • Take a deep breath, know your guests can easily arrive later than you have planned – as mine always do.
  • So don’t start cooking the last minute part of your dishes until they have arrived.
  • As people arrive, take their coats, show them to your table you may have set aside for drinks and tell them to help themselves while putting away their coats.
  • When introducing people, say things like, "Oh John, let me introduce you to Susan whose in town for the mac convention - don't you love your mac, John? " Then walk away...let them chit chat about macs for awhile - this way the new people will have something to talk about versus just sitting on your couch hoping that the TV was on...
  • Serve finger foods and appetizers that can be served cold and/or at room temperature while you take a quick step into the kitchen to heat up any warm appetizers and begin to reheat your main dish if you are doing it this way.
  • Very important! Go with the may have planned one thing, but something can come up...I have had my peeps show literally one hour late..which would not have been good for the soufflé I had prepared...but I knew better, and had the prepared soufflé waiting to go in the oven when the guests did finally arrive.
  • So have some flexibility since people may not be ready to eat just yet, and wish to chit chat before sitting down to the table.

Have fun, it’s your party, you did all this great planning, no one will noticed you didn’t shake out the carpet, these are your friends, they love you for who you are and not what you are trying to be. And by the way I did received many oohs and ahs since the soufflé has such a wow factor.

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