This weekend, John and I did something terribly grown up and hosted our first proper dinner party. We’ve had parties before, and we’ve had people for dinner before, but we’ve never had more than four or five people sat around our little living room table. As a 20-something married person, it’s always a little daunting doing this sort of thing properly for the first time.
So how did we navigate the potential pitfalls of hosting such a grown up event, rife with potential stick-up-the-bum-ness and make it into an enjoyable evening? Planning! And here’s how you can plan the perfect dinner party too.
Think about numbers
John and I have one, very small, dining table and five viable dining room chairs. When you’re young-ish, usually you have enough to suit your everyday needs and occasional guests, and that’s the set up we have at the moment. To accommodate eight people, we cleaned up the garden furniture and put cushions on everything. Sure it looked a bit like the kids’ table at a family occasion, but everyone was seated comfortably in the end.
We also had to make sure we had enough plates (we didn’t) cutlery (short one knife) and wine glasses. Plain white tablecloths also give your tables a uniform look if you’re using more than one and bring a level of sophistication to your decor scheme.
Lovely little details
When you’re hosting a small dinner party, you can afford to go all out on detail without it being too time consuming or expensive. We made little place settings for everyone and small, dried flower favours for our guests to take home with them. I also made a bouquet centrepiece as a finishing touch and lit a candle on each table.
Ask about dietary requirements
You don’t want to make a big roast to find out you’re hosting a vegetarian, or overcompensate with a nut roast only to inflate your highly allergic guest. Send out a request for dietary requirements in advance so there are no nasty surprises.
Stick to what you know
Your first dinner party isn’t the time to try out that complicated new recipe. I made good, old-fashioned mac’n’cheese because I know I can make it well without poisoning anyone. We had veg and side salad to round out the meal. For dessert, I made my lemon sherbet cupcakes with love hearts on top and asked each guest to choose a sweet for their sweetie (bleugh, I know). I also had back-up ice cream and snacks to give people options.
Tea & coffee
Have tea, coffee, a selection of herbal teas, sweeteners, milk and plenty of mugs at the ready. Offer hot drinks when your guests arrive and again after dinner. I know this seems obvious, but it doesn’t always occur to everyone and it’s a nice touch. It immediately makes people feel at home and gives them an excuse to stick around and chat.
Think about conversation
At an ordinary party, it’s easier to just walk off if you want to end a conversation. A dinner party is a much more formal context and, in a way, it’s more pressure. If you or one of your guests holds particularly strong opinions, avoid controversial or difficult political topics that could cause an upset. There’s debate and then there’s creating an uncomfortable situation.
Spotify has some great dinner party playlists full of chilled out background music that you can play quietly to create atmosphere.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
A dinner party doesn’t mean you have to be a stick in the mud. Make it a pleasant evening by all means, but these people are still your friends! You don’t have to mind your Ps and Qs to the point where you’re having a dull evening. Have fun and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.