The Perfect Host

From menu planning to plateware, entertaining dinner guests can be a lot of work. That’s why we have compiled a cheat sheet that will make things easier.

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Even for people that love to cook for others, hosting a dinner party can be stressful. There are often many components to a meal that require well timed execution. Then, there’s wanting to strike the balance of time spent in the kitchen and enjoying a quality visit with your guests. It can be a lot to juggle, but with organization and advance preparation, you can save yourself a lot of undue stress.  

BE PREPARED

Dinner parties range in size but, generally, it’s a good idea to prepare absolutely anything you can before the main event. Make yourself a list and get as many dishes prepared as possible. Many elements of the meal, from welcoming snacks all the way to dessert can be made ahead and kept in sealed containers, chilled or frozen. Make a note on which dishes will require heating, so you’ll remember to secure the kitchen real estate required. Non-food items can be prepped early as well and will save you a tonne of time and energy on the day of your feast. Why not set your dinner table a day ahead of time as well? Set aside and organize anything and everything that will be needed to hold, serve or consume food and drinks. We recommend writing labels on pieces of tape and sticking them right on the dishes and drinkware you will need. That way, you’re not scrambling to find a missing pickle dish or pair of serving tongs in the eleventh hour. 

Dinner parties range in size but, generally, it’s a good idea to prepare absolutely anything you can before the main event.

Even if it’s a small affair, like a cocktail gathering, you can still pre-arrange glassware, cocktail accoutrements, and all that's needed for a great soiree.  Apart from cocktail necessities, displaying a wine decanter looks great and it will be within arm’s reach, should you decide to decant that well-aged bottle of Bordeaux. 

As for the invitation time, this will be largely influenced by what part of the world you live in. If you’re in Canada, a typical starting time is usually between 6-7pm. If you’re in Spain, anywhere between 8-9:30pm is common. The other golden rule is to build your timeline around when the main entree will be finished cooking, since it is the main component of dinner and will likely take the most time. Keep in mind, it is common for guests to begin the event with a cocktail and small appetizer, before sitting down for a formal dinner. Again, this depends on the size and formality of the affair. 

A wrinkle in a tablecloth or a broken egg shell isn’t the end of the world.

IN THE NAME OF MARTHA

Nobody knows how to throw a dinner party better than Martha Stewart, American icon. Martha’s motto is quality over quantity – focus in on a few dishes that will make your guests feel special. 

There’s also a great argument for hosting a brunch gathering, rather than the more traditional dinner party. If you’re an early riser, it may be particularly tempting to do so. It’s especially nice to have the evening to clean, rather than late at night or the next day. There’s also the added bonus that friends and family members are less likely to overindulge and outstay their welcome.

Remember that not every affair must be lavish. The ingredients you choose to include will come down to the number of guests you’re hosting and your budget. A less elaborate gathering might include preparing a few light snacks and refreshments to offer your guests. If it’s during the holiday season, eggnog, hot chocolate and winter spiced teas make lovely choices. 

WHAT WOULD INA DO?

Another acclaimed hostess that we look to for guidance is Ina Garten, American cookbook author and television personality. She doesn’t take herself as seriously as Martha Stewart, nor does she strive for that level of perfection. A wrinkle in a tablecloth or a broken egg shell isn’t the end of the world for Ina. This philosophy is something we can all benefit from. Part of the fun of hosting should be enjoying the process. Cooking is fun and sharing it with the people you love is the best part about time spent in the kitchen. 

Over the years, we’ve learned a thing or two, from trial and error. Firstly, great food doesn’t have to be complicated. There’s absolutely no shame in a sheet pan meal or simple pasta dish. Keep it simple and spend more time enjoying it with the ones you love. You can make a basic recipe look very sophisticated by how you garnish and plate it. If you are a new cook, it’s important that you stick to easy-to-follow recipes and follow them precisely. The time for getting creative is only after you’ve mastered a dish. Other pearls of wisdom we’ve gleaned include cooking with seasonal ingredients, only cooking with wine that you would actually drink, and collecting classic cookbooks for inspiration. Oh, and if you do nothing else, be sure to inquire with your guests about allergies and dietary concerns, ahead of time. Nobody wants to associate your dinner party with a trip to the hospital.