Entertaining friends with beers and a BBQ is a skill most of us have perfected by our mid-twenties. But as we get older a simple barbie doesn’t always cut it, and the time will come when a dinner party is called for. Put your gentlemanly maturity on display with a dapper dinner party using some of the tips listed below.
Make A Guest List & Keep It Tight
Unlike a casual barbeque or Friday night drinks, a dinner party works best when guest numbers are kept to single digits. Between four and eight is ideal. Any more than this and you’ll probably want to think about hiring caterers or installing a second oven in the kitchen. Resist the temptation to take on more than you can handle!
The guest list might be limited, but the characters you invite don’t need to be. Ideally, the majority of your party-goers will know each other, but it is interesting to throw in a few quirky friends to mix things up a bit and keep people on their toes. Aim for a 70:30 ratio where 70 per cent of guests are already acquainted and 30 per cent are fresh meat (work colleagues, for example).
Whether you email, post or text your friends the details of your intended dinner party, ask them to RSVP a couple of weeks in advance so you can plan the menu and prepare the house.
Keep The Menu Simple
If you think convoluted canapés are the only way to show off your culinary skills and impress your guests, think again. Leave the fiddly horderves and elaborate meals to Heston and his ilk while you focus on simplicity. Never cook something you haven’t prepared before and stick with dishes you know you can nail. Trust us: a well-cooked steak will taste better than a 5-course French degustation where you serve pâté and spend all night in the kitchen attempting to fry snails and raise a soufflé.
Remember: it’s okay to serve food that requires little or no preparation. Cheese platters and antipasti plates, for example, make fantastic starters.
Slow cooked dishes work well for mains, as does a classic roast with vegetables and gravy. Pasta salads and other cold dishes are a great addition to any meal and can be prepared ahead of time, further lessening your time in the kitchen.
Whatever you choose to cook, try and estimate your portions correctly and always buy more than you think you’ll need. It’s better to have leftovers than hungry partygoers.
Cover all bases by offering red and white wine, beer and a couple of spirits (vodka or whisky etc.). Alternatively, you can inform guests that you will be supplying beer and wine only, leaving them free to bring their own spirits or beverage of their choice.
Do your homework and try to match the wine and beer with the menu, and stock up on brands you know your friends enjoy. Non-alcoholic options are also essential. Soft drinks and sparkling waters never go astray, and double as mixers for the spirit drinkers. Have a selection of lemon and lime wedges pre-cut to garnish drinks.
Don’t forget the ice! Nobody enjoys a dash to the servo for a last minute ice run, so buy a few bags in advance and make sure you have enough glassware and straws to keep everyone happy.
Hire Some Help
If your dinner party budget is generous we suggest you hire a waiter to mix and serve drinks. This way you won’t be getting up every five minutes to fetch more wine, refill glasses or clear empty beer bottles off the table as they pile up.
Having someone to take care of this allows you to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour. It also means you can be a more engaging and present host, while making sure inebriated friends keep out of your liquor cabinet.
Set The Scene & The Table
Almost as important as the food and the company, is the ambiance of a dinner party. Set the table with matching dishware and cutlery (a mismatched table setting is a rookie mistake and should be avoided. Buy a new set of plates and bowls if need be – they needn’t be fancy and expensive but they do need to match!).
Candles and soft lamp lighting is preferable to the harsh brightness of overhead illumination. A centrepiece is also something to consider. It doesn’t need to be a feminine bunch of blooms: your centrepiece could be anything from a row of large candles to a glass bowl filled with red and green apples.
Be The Music Maestro
Awkward silences and dinner parties are not happy bedfellows, so create a playlist to have on in the background at all times. This will guard against total, nerve-wracking silence where the only sound is chewing and chairs shuffling.
Meet & Greet, Drink & Eat
If you plan your prep right you’ll be free to greet guests and chat for a while before you need to get back into the kitchen to start plating up and adding finishing touches.
As soon as your guests walk in the door, offer them a drink and something to nibble on (cheese platter, canapés etc.). Introduce anyone who doesn’t know each other and offer little titbits about newbies to get the conversation flowing.
Dealing With Stragglers
There’s one in every group: that cheery chap who has the energy of a puppy and lingers around long after everyone else has gone, ignoring your hints and over-exaggerated yawns. There are a few things you can do to rid yourself of the dreaded overstayer.
- Inquire as to how they plan on getting home and offer to call an Uber or cab for them.
- Talk about how busy you are the following day.
- Turn off the music and extinguish any candles. Turn on the overhead lights.
- Start doing the washing up and ask if the straggler would like to help.
- Change into your pyjamas (unless you sleep naked, although your unexpected exposure would also work).
- Just straight up ask the guy to go home because you’re exhausted.