Breaking bread with friends, family and neighbors is the quintessential way to reconnect. Sharing your space, putting in effort and honoring your people with food is not only fun, but important. But we also realize it can be a lot of work, and for some of us, a little intimidating. So in the spirit of celebration, we’re giving you the definitive nine steps to creating the best party of all – The Dinner Party. So get ready, get hungry and read on for a simple guide to creating a memorable meal.
1. Choose Your Guests
First decide how many people you can comfortably fit in your space. Is it eight around a dinner table, ten on a blanket on the backyard, or four on your porch for brunch? When you’ve determined the number of guests, then you can start playing matchmaker.
You don’t have to invite your closest friends by default, but maybe you choose a motley-crew based on interest. Maybe it’s all the people in your life that work in food, maybe they’re all crafters, or maybe they’re all single. They don’t have to know each other yet, and in fact, that can be the point of the party. But once you decide how many people you can accomodate, you can start inviting.
Tip: Get an RSVP by a certain date so you can get invite others if not everyone can make it.
Tip: Ask in your invitation if anyone has any food restrictions, that way you know not to serve a roast beef to a room full of vegetarians.
Tip: Let them know the theme so they can bring the appropriate bottle of wine or drink.
2. Pick A Theme
From food to music to decor, your theme sets the stage. Try Morrocan and serve a tagine with olives and almond soup, low lighting and seats on the floor. What about Puerto Rican food with a roasted pernil, rice and beans, tostones and flan, with Coquito flowing and salsa in the background? Try street food and research what some of the hottest food trucks are doing these days – you could serve dynamite grilled cheese, Asian tacos and pulled pork, people will devour your food using their hands and paper napkins as it they were at a street fair. How about foods that come in shells? You’ve got shrimp, mussels, eggs, snails, ice cream cones… The point is to have fun and be creative.
Tip: Think about your favorite holiday, place, color or music, and build an event around that.
3. Plan a Menu, Drinks and Budget
Now for the most important element of the dinner party: the dinner. And the more you plan, the more you can tackle. Write down your ideas at least seven days in advance so you have an entire weekend prior to buy all your non-perishables, any serving items you’ll need and have ample time to research dishes and ingredients. After you determine what you’ll need for each dish, you can start to address your budget.
Be thrifty and plan dishes that use similar ingredients – this makes it cheaper. For example, if one dish calls for basil, how can you incorporate basil into a cocktail? Or, substitute premium items for everyday items – just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it’s the best. If you have your heart set on beef, you don’t need to prepare a filet for 8, which will run you over 200 dollars. Consider brisket or beef ribs, both amazingly succulent, flavorful and inexpensive. Want to do fish? Tuna will kill your wallet but pots of mussels served with crusty bread will be cheap, easy and impressive.
When planning a signature cocktail for your meal, research and buy the generic brand of special ingredients that you may never use again, like apricot brandy, so you can splurge on the higher quality liquor that is the base of your cocktail (gin, vodka, rum). Local and small-batch, or just premium liquors will make a huge difference in your drinks and in your guests the next day. If you provide one fun cocktail, your guests will bring the bulk of the drinks when they show up with a bottle of wine.
Tip: There are a bazillion food and drink blogs out there. Spend sometime online and see what the culinary-obsessed are up to. They’ll love for you to take inspiration from their fooding adventures.
4. Accessorize The Space
Are you having a dumpling themed party? Pick up bamboo trays to steam your dumplings and serve directly from them. Maybe you need to pick up a case of mason jars to pickle seasonal veggies, serve drinks or to bake individual pies, your local hardware store will have different sizes by the case and for cheap.
5. Plan and Shop
Now that you know what you need for your kebab party, it’s time to start shopping. If it’s perishable, save it for last and make sure there’s room in your fridge for it all.
Tip: If you’re expecting six packs of beer and several bottles that need to stay cool, use an ice bucket or cooler for drinks that people bring. That way they don’t need to be rooting around your fridge.
6. Prep and Primp
Unless you want to be stuck in the kitchen during your dinner party, Prep and Primp is the most important step ever. Anything you can pre-wash, pre-cut, even par-cook, do so the day before. If you know you’ll need to get the extra chair from the basement or the soup bowl from way up there, get it down and cleaned well before adding in the gazpacho.
Tip: For all herbs and greens, wash thoroughly in cold water, dry well and put in an air tight plastic bag with a paper towel.
Tip: When packaging cut veggies, make sure to put them in containers that keep out as much air as possible to keep them fresh in taste and texture.
Tip: A lot of recipes include steps that can be done ahead. Read through your recipes completely and ahead of time and see what you can do a day or two before.
7. Welcome, Host and Dine
Dinner parties aren’t ALL about the food. It’s also about being a good and generous host. Offer drinks as soon as your guests arrive and if you’re serving hors d’oeuvres, have them out from the get go. Introduce all your guests with fun anecdotes to get their conversations started for them. And don’t stress your guests by being stressed out yourself. That means let them help when they offer if you need it – they like feeling useful anyway.
Tip: Assign specific tasks to specific guests – they’ll feel special that you thought about what they would be good at.
8. Organize the Chaos
As you’re all languidly relaxing over coffees and desert, cheese and teas, or port and squares of dark chocolate, quietly excuse yourself to organize the chaos. This does not mean clean. This means organize. You don’t want to alienate your guests, so simply wrap leftovers (yeah right), toss uneaten food from plates (yeah right) and stack up the dirty dishes in the sink, ready to be cleaned tomorrow.
Tip: Have your garbage empty and ready for debris.
Tip: If you have a dishwasher, be prepared by having it empty for this stage in the game.
9. Strike, Clean and Clear
Look. You just have to do it. Now that the party is over and the hangover is creeping up, you kind of need to embrace the fact that your house is trashed and needs a thorough scouring. So go with it. Put on your cleaning mix, change into some comfy clothes, make yourself a Michelada and get to scrubbing. Once you’ve succumbed, you’ll find it’s actually kinda fun.