Text by Nancy Johnston
Whether you are trying to impress your husband’s boss, commemorating an important occasion or just celebrating the fact that you have great friends, a certain amount of planning is necessary if you want your dinner party to receive rave reviews.
Start by deciding when you want to have the party, whether it will be formal or casual and how many guests you will invite. Occasion dictates formality and that dictates everything from method of invitation and menu to setting, seating, decor and attire. Formal dinners have more pomp and circumstance and therefore require more meticulous planning, and a more sophisticated menu that might require moderate to advanced culinary skills. This doesn’t have to stop you from hosting a formal dinner though; it just means you may need the services of a professional chef to cater the food. Of course if you have signature dishes that are tried and true you might enjoy the challenge of preparing the food yourself. If you intend to prepare the meal yourself try to include some dishes that can be prepared in advance and will lighten your workload the day of the party. You may also want to consider hiring an assistant to help with meal prep and to serve the food. This will allow you to relax with the guests during the meal and concentrate on hosting, without the distraction of having to clear away dishes between courses or make mad dashes to the kitchen to attend to the food.
Just as formal dining doesn’t include finger foods, casual dining doesn’t really work with formal dinner entrees. Buffet, potluck, made in advance, easy and finger foods are all the buzzwords for casual party cuisine. Try to give guests as much advance notice as possible so they have time to respond and you can plan accordingly. When they respond favorably, find out if they have any dietary restrictions or food allergies that might affect your menu planning.
While tradition dictates that a formal dinner invitation be printed and sent by mail, these days it is perfectly acceptable to ask in person, by phone or email. Larger parties like milestone birthday or anniversary invitations are usually sent through the mail due to size of guest list. Dinner parties with special themes or where guests are expected to dress a certain way or bring something with them are usually printed and serve as a reminder of what is expected. Single guests are always assumed to be bringing a companion. When contemplating seating arrangements for formal or casual, consider such things as guest’s ages, compatibility, tastes and personalities.
Make a timetable of tasks for the days leading up to the party so you won’t feel mounting pressure as the day approaches. Two weeks before the party go through your lists, shopping, cleaning and decorating, and make sure you have covered everything. Hire necessary staff. Finalize menu and create shopping lists. Double check pantry for ingredients you think you already have on hand before you head out to the grocery store. A week before the party, go through your supplies making sure you have all the necessary table settings and that everything is in excellent condition and sparkling clean. Purchase other supplies such as alcohol, mix and any serving bowls, utensils or napkins then. Do a thorough cleaning of your house including shampooing your carpets. Here again you might want to hire professional cleaners to help you out. In the final days before the party, plan your cooking schedule or go over final details with the chef or caterer. Make sure he or she knows exactly what you expect and when. The day before the party do advance cooking if applicable. Purchase fresh flowers and ice then as well. Give the house a final once over paying special attention to the kitchen and bathrooms. The morning of the party, arrange table settings, place cards if required, and the centerpiece. Set out flowers and candles or other theme-based decor. Do food prep as required.
Choose wine to accompany the meal based on entree and count on 1/4 bottle of wine with dinner per person. One drink pre meal and one drink post are the average; however, you don’t want to run short so always have extra.
Remember to leave enough time before guests arrive to relax and get yourself ready so you can receive your guests at your best.