With the busiest social time of year fast approaching we thought we’d give you some tips on how to throw the perfect dinner party. Now, by ‘perfect’ we don’t mean the most immaculately-planned, formal affair when you have to impress virtual strangers. No, we’re thinking a fun, casual dinner for friends and loved ones. These are our favourite kind of gatherings: a great bunch of people sharing good food and some proper time in each others’ company. Fuss-free yet special, where everyone pitches in and conversation (and yes, also wine) flows. A beautiful table setting that feels welcoming and not too formal. That’s our perfect dinner party.
The idea that you have to be the ultimate host or create some kind of Michelin-starred meal can be enough to put you off entertaining at all. Then there’s the stress of tidying the house and making it presentable. It can be hard to summon up the time and effort in an already busy week for what can feel like extra work. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Here’s how you can have an evening that you will not only look forward to hosting, but that you’ll also enjoy while it’s happening, and that will show your friends how much you value and appreciate them.
Simple dinner party tips for a fabulous evening:
If you enjoy cooking and feeding a crowd this part of throwing a dinner party can be part of the joy of a shared feast. But if coming up with a menu that suits different dietary requirements and doesn’t take all day to prepare isn’t your thing, here are some alternatives.
- Potluck suppers are really fun, and people love to contribute a dish to the gathering. You can give everyone a loose theme, perhaps that everyone brings an Ottolenghi dish, so that the different dishes will work together. If there are vegetarians or vegans amongst your crowd then maybe use that as the theme, so that each guest can sample all the food. You could do some vague coordinating, just to make sure everyone doesn’t bring the same thing (this happened to us recently and we were eating sweet potato for days afterwards). Potluck dinners are a nice way to push yourself out of your culinary comfort zone and try new things, without putting all the pressure on one person to provide the whole meal.
- Take away pizza is always an option if you’re really pushed for time, and you’d like to spend what precious time you do have catching up with your friends instead of sweating away in the kitchen. People will love you for it.
- Easy, part-prepared meals have the same ‘wow’ factor as a meal made from scratch, but with less effort. You could buy rotisserie chickens, cut them into quarters and serve on a big platter with lemons and fresh herbs, and a simple green salad alongside.
- Dessert can be a simple plate of pears, grapes, figs and a couple of good cheeses, along with a bar or two of the best dark chocolate you can find.
Stock up on non-alcoholic drinks and keep a jug of water on the table for those who don’t drink. They are often left out as bottles are passed around the table and glasses topped up, so keep an eye on their drinks and keep them replenished. A bowl of punch or mulled wine is a fun way to serve alcohol and adds to the communal atmosphere as people can serve themselves, and each other. Make sure there is plenty to drink for the whole evening – overstocking is better than having to dash out to the corner store at 10pm for more wine. If in doubt about what to serve just stick to bubbly – this always feel special and you can get some great low-cost sparkling wines.
For a casual, just-thrown-together-look go for a linen tablecloth and linen napkins in a complementary but not necessarily matching colour. Fold the napkins simply and tuck in a sprig of rosemary or lavender if you have some. Linen always looks effortlessly stylish, and you don’t need to worry about the inevitable spills because you can just chuck it all in the washing machine at the end of the night. Have as many candles as your table will allow, and some simple flowers or a jar of fresh herbs to create a simple focal point. Even flowers grabbed from the grocery store on your way home can look good arranged by colour. Don’t worry about finding a fancy vase, just use whatever’s to hand.
As for tidying up, don’t sweat. None of your friends will judge you if there are piles of washing or if your toddler’s toys are on the floor. In fact, it can be liberating for everyone to see the reality of everyday life, rather than be faced with manicured, unrealistic, Insta-ready homes.
This might be a bit controversial but it’s not always necessary to have music on in the background while you’ve got people over. If you have a great playlist and are a music-fan then go for it, but otherwise choosing the right tunes can be another pressure. Sometimes just the sound of conversation, laughter and the happy scraping of cutlery on plates is the perfect backdrop for an evening.
Have you got any tips on how to throw a stress-free dinner party? Share them in the comments below!