TTT – Tuesday’s Tasty Tip – Hosting a Relaxed and Memorable Dinner Party
Hosting a relaxed memorable dinner party is the result of thoughtful planning and timely execution of that plan. If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Without strategic planning and execution, you will spend more time in the kitchen than with your guests, and be dead tired when your guests arrive. Your primary goal should be enjoying yourself and your guests, while they laud praise and appreciation for your impressive and delicious meal throughout the evening, all the while done with engaging and witty conversation. Below are a few important key decision points to consider, making sure you do not overextend yourself or your budget.
If the dinner party is formal, you will need at least three weeks’ notice in order to send out invitations and get a timely response; if casual, ten days will work fine.
The initial choices below will determine how manageable the project will be. Here are some things to consider:
What type of dinner party are you hosting, casual or formal?
Head count. How many will you invite? If the dinner party is formal, do you have enough chairs and table settings for each person? You may need to rent some items, but this will affect the budget. Typically it is best to limit the number to 6 or 8. This allows for more personal interaction between guests.
Have a budget. Dinner parties don’t need to be expensive. With a little creativity, you can WOW your guests on a humble budget.
Remember, your first priority should be to enjoy the time with your guests. If your budget allows, hire a personal chef for the evening. If the budget will not allow this, consider having a close friend help you for the evening. Make sure they are familiar how to serve and bus the tables such that guests feel comfortable and not rushed during the dinner. A good server is not noticed, but is appreciated when noticed.
Plan the menu. Stick with what you know. You do not want to try something new for a dinner party. If you are trying something new, then do a “dry run” to make sure the recipe(s) are what you want and can produce them in a timely manner.
Now that you have in mind your vision of the dinner party, use the timeline below as your guide to complete tasks in a logical and balance order. Check things off as you complete them so you don’t have to revisit them.
2 weeks ahead
Confirm how many guests will be coming.
Finish planning/confirming your menu taking into consideration any special dietary needs of your guests.
Buy or order the any specialty meats and ingredients.
Plan/order table décor, place settings, serving dishes.
Shop for any decorations, serving pieces or kitchen equipment you need.
Order/buy any decorations needed for the event.
1 week ahead
Begin preparing make-ahead dishes that can be frozen without losing texture and taste quality.
Make your party shopping list and other to-do lists, and attach reasonable dates to each item, making sure the heaviest workload is done in the next two days. You do not want to have to manage cooking for your guests in between making the house look great.
6 days ahead
Finalize your party shopping list.
Decide on your clothing and determine if dry cleaning is required. If so, drop them off at the dry cleaners.
5 Days ahead
Shop for staples, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Prepare foods that can be made in advance and refrigerated.
2 to 3 Days ahead
Pick up your clothes at the dry cleaners.
Do any house cleaning required.
Place nice aromatic candles in the bathrooms.
Do any decorating you have planned.
Prepare any meat sauce, cover and refrigerate.
Prepare bread or rolls, wrap well and freeze.
The day before the dinner party
Clean and remove any unnecessary items from your refrigerator.
Complete all food shopping.
Make dips and spreads, cover and refrigerate.
Complete all prep work that is not time critical such as chopping ingredients for the salad, making cranberry sauce, boiling potatoes for mashed potatoes, etc. Store appropriately considering food safety storage temperature guidelines and packaging using covered bowls or plastic bags.
Bake pies, cakes, tarts and cookies that are on the menu.
Chill wines or other beverages.
The evening before the dinner party
Set the table.
Set up area for beverages.
Organize the tea and coffee service.
Place serving dishes on the table, using sticky notes to indicate what each will hold.
Go to bed early. A good night’s rest of eight hours is required to be “up” for the big day.
Morning of the dinner party
Eat a large breakfast. This will allow you to skip lunch if your meal preparation requires you to do so.
Prepare hors d’oeuvres.
Finish any prep work required to support the final assembling of dishes.
4 to 5 hours before dinner
Check the table setting.
Arrange centerpiece and put last minute touched on the table setting.
Prepare side dishes to be reheated later.
3 hours before dinner
Assemble the main course(s) and prep for baking or final cooking
2 hour before guests arrive
Heat hors d’oeuvres, if necessary
Take a long relaxing bath and dress for the dinner party.
1 hour before dinner
Serve drinks and hors d’oeuvres.
Remove any dishes to be served at room temperature.
45 minutes to 1 hour before dinner
Reheat side dishes
Plate cold dishes
Seat your guests and serve dinner.
I hope that this checklist is helpful in providing your special guests a memorable evening, while you remain calm and relaxed, enjoying their company. The goal here is for you enjoy the entire process from “Let’s have a dinner party” to going to bed after the event versus, “Good gracious, I am wiped out. I wish I had called Thyme for a Chef!”
If you need help planning a special dinner party, send an email to [email protected] and we will be happy to provide detailed consultation services at competitive prices.
Chef David Hall, CGC
Thyme for a Chef, LLC