February is supposedly love month, but who says only couples should have all the fun? Host a dinner party that will be so easy to pull off—for all your single friends, perhaps?—you’ll want to do it every month.
A stress-free dinner party is not equivalent to the Holy Grail—it’s easy, affordable, and totally doable. Just follow these simple tricks and techniques.
About your menu
Go easy on the courses. Three to four is more than enough: nibblers, salad or soup, one to two mains, and dessert.
Serve everything family style—it gets everyone interacting with each other (“Will you please pass the soup? Oh wow, that’s a nice watch!”), and lets you off the hook when it comes to plating.
Don’t try a new recipe for your dinner party. Always whip up your old reliables.
There’s nothing wrong with takeout—so long as you plate them in your fanciest china.
Set up a bar cart and let your guests make their own drinks. Print out easy-to-follow recipes for cocktail drinks and put them in photo frames by the bar.
About your décor
Keep things simple. There’s no need to execute your entire Dinner Party Ideas Pinterest board.
Give one to two weeks lead time for your DIY décor preferences, to buy what décor can be bought from retail, or to scavenge around your house for whatever you can use to dress up your place.
Decorate your space one to two days before the party. But save buying flowers for the morning of your party.
Place candles (or Christmas lights) in and around the dining space, to give a sophisticated and moody ambience. Everybody looks great in soft lighting.
About your guest list
Keep it small—six to eight is ideal.
Invite people who already know each other, and who will help you steer the conversation.
Should you invite someone new, make sure that that person will fit well into the group.
Nowadays, phone, text, or email invitations are socially acceptable, but if you want to go the extra mile, snail-mail your guests a handwritten note on special paper or card.
Ask each one of them in advance for any food allergies they might have. It’s always unpleasant to bring out everything you whipped up, only to find at least one of your guests can’t eat any of them.
About setting the table
Dinner parties are meant to be casual; resist the temptation to set your table according to strict and formal etiquette standards.
If you do plan on setting the table, one quick tip all guests should know when using utensils is to work your way in. Keep this in mind as the host or hostess, so you know where to position the salad fork, soup spoon, bread knife, and knife.
An informal way of giving guests their utensils is by wrapping a spoon, fork, and knife in a table napkin, and placing one set in each glass. This way, guests will just easily grab one for themselves.
About the party itself
Plan your menu in such a way that you’ll be able to finish cooking at least an hour before the guests start arriving. This way, you’ll have time to freshen up and welcome them in.
Prepare a playlist that you can easily forget as soon as the first guest enters and the last one leaves. Or, bring out your collection of long-playing records and let guests pick out the music themselves.
Assign one guest to the bar cart, so he or she can be in charge of making sure everyone’s glasses are filled.
If you can’t avoid cooking while the guests are already warming up, always have plates of nibblers at the ready, like fruits, nuts, cheese, or veggie sticks.
Resist the urge to clean up immediately after your guests. When you’re relaxed, your guests are relaxed, too.
Have an enjoyable dinner!