Whether you are male or female, single or coupled, live alone or with roommates or your parents — hosting your first dinner party shouldn’t be a big deal. If you plan ahead, it can be a lot of fun! But if you don’t plan — you are in for some major stress, some uncomfortable guests, and a flop of a party. Most important: don’t panic — just think it through. These guidelines will help steer you to a perfectly successful dinner.
It’s really important to let people know why, when and where they are gathering, but even more important is letting them know when the party will end. This is for their sake as well as yours. Allowing time for the event and the meal, as well as lingering conversations are musts, but not every party needs to last until the following day. (You are not hosting a Frat Party!)
Be clear in your invitation — whether verbal, texted, emailed or in print — what time the dinner will be served as well as when the guests will be invited to leave: “Cocktails at 6, dinner at 7:30.” This gives busy guests plenty of time to plan their other activities around your party. And be sure to invite the majority of your guests in plenty of time to make your party a priority on their schedules. As a host, don’t be afraid to circulate around the party at the evening’s end. Thanking people for coming is a polite cue, telling them the party is over and it’s time to go home.
Know your audience. Do your guests include parents, friends, work colleagues or a special someone? Or is it a combination of all of these? This is important to know in advance as the host because you can prepare introductions to get conversations flowing between different people by including a mutual interest in their introductions. “Jane, this is my sister who is visiting from Texas. Sally, this is Jane, who works in our marketing department.” Or, “Jack, I’d like you to meet Billy who was just transferred here by Google to drum-up new corporate sales. Billy, Jack is originally from this area and knows a lot of the local business owners.”
Introductions like these get people talking with each other quickly. Since you have already pointed out common ground, conversations can flow from there and it won’t be awkward for either of them.
What is the goal for having the party? Is there a theme; is it a holiday celebration, an event, a housewarming, a working meal or just a gathering of old friends? If there is a purpose, be sure to plan for its introduction. If there is no purpose other than just hanging on Friday evening — be creative and make one up! It will be a lot more fun for everyone!
Along these same lines, if there is a purpose, how will you know it is a success? Do you want Jane and Sally to become friends? Do you want Mom to meet that nice neighbor and have someone to play bingo with on Wednesdays? Know in advance what you want to accomplish and what will signify the party’s success. And be sure to follow-up on the purpose with the individuals to see if it worked. If not, you may be throwing another party! If it did, maybe you need to host another party to celebrate!
Some people think that this is the most important part of the party. And depending on the theme or purpose, this can be very important. Your guests’ drink preferences can sometimes ruin your budget. The best hosts offer a small variety of libations but don’t supply a full bar or extensive wine cellar options. If guests have a restrictive preference of cocktails or wine, they should bring their own.
In fact, some people will hang at the bar area for most of the night, or continue to drink throughout the entire evening. Expect this — especially if you are in your 20s or 30s. For this age group, drinking is everything. Don’t fight it — flow with it. But be sure to prepare for the sometimes-unpleasant side effects.
This is the part that terrifies most people. If you are a decent cook with a few “old-reliable, but great tasting recipes in your back pocket” — great.
First, figure out how much time you need to prepare. This is really important. Remember that for Thanksgiving dinner with the family, your Mom was cooking for three days in advance, because she wanted to do it herself. If you have that kind of time or want to put in that much effort — that’s great! But most of us don’t. If you don’t cook, find a great caterer or the take-out service of your favorite restaurant that will provide everything you will need — including table dressings, serving dishes and utensils for every course of the dinner. Of course, this can be costly. But it’s well worth it, if it’s within your budget.
The activity goes along with the theme for the dinner party. Is it a card game night, the Final Four playoffs on TV, the Super Bowl or just a normal Sunday? The activity may determine where you dine and how the meal will be served. Will your guests be served at your dining table? Or will your set up be a more casual buffet-style? Is the activity happening before the meal, throughout the meal, or after it? Or is the activity the very dinner party itself — its value being the conversation among the guests? A great dinner party host needs to know in advance, and plan on these things.
Serve yourself or sit-down formality? Will you be serving the food buffet style for both the appetizers and the meal? Plan ahead where you will serve from and what the traffic flow of the serving line will lead them. Keep the flow moving by avoiding a “dead-end” at the end of the serving table.
Will you choose formal seating or wandering about the house/yard/balcony/deck? If there is to be formal seating, have a good deal of space around the table. This will put your guests at ease and help them feel relaxed and not jammed together. It also encourages conversation to flow freely.
The Clean Up
Do your guests normally help clean up after a party? In the American South and Midwest, friendly guests or family stay post-party to help the host clean up. Up North, this is not customary, although some guests may politely offer to help. And on the West Coast most people do not entertain at their homes, as parties seem to be held at restaurants.
At your home, be prepared to do it all yourself — even if you don’t finish cleaning up until 5 AM or later, you’ll be glad the next day — and so will your headache!
If you follow these guidelines (and plan ahead), thinking of the comfort and quirks of your individual guests so they feel at ease with each other and their surroundings, your first dinner party will be a resounding success.
No Stress Dinner Parties
from the Foodnetwork.com
23 Awesome Ideas for Throwing Your First Dinner Party
17 Tips for Throwing Your First (or Your First Painless) Dinner Party
Easy Dinner Party Recipes
All books are available at amazon.com. Click on titles for more information.
The Dinner Party Diary
by Benjamin Goodman and Deborah Greenspan
The San Francisco dinner Party Cookbook
by Judith Ets-Hokin
Barefoot Contessa Parties
by Ina Gartin
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