Recently, I hosted a party for 12 of my closest friends. That’s 13 – yes, thirteen – people total. And this wasn’t just a party where I put out some food buffet-style. This was a sit down dinner.
It was exhausting and amazing. I was stressed at some points, but the party turned out great. So here’s what I learned:
1. Experiment a little…but plan 75%+ of the meal with tried-and-true recipes.
For my dinner party, I did try a new recipe – Green Bean Fries. But the bulk of my recipes were dishes that I have made several times and that I know are crowd-pleases (BBQ Meatballs and OMG Sour Cream Chicken were my entrees, and I also made Onion Roasted Potatoes). If one dish is a Pinter-mess, it’s not the end of the world. If several dishes are, you’ll be ordering pizza.
2. Get dietary requests before your start planning.
You might know if one of your friends doesn’t eat meat or has a severe peanut allergy, but did you know Sue is on a carb-free diet or Joe recently decided to switch to kosher-only? People change their diets all the time. Before you plan out your menu, contact your guests and ask for dietary requests. This is especially important if any of your guests are bringing partners or friends you don’t know well.
3. Count your chairs.
We had so many people at my dinner party that a few people had to sit on folding lawn chairs! It was something that never even crossed my mind, and luckily, my friends had a sense of humor about it. In the future, I’ll be counting chairs for sure and will ask friends to bring some folding chairs if necessary.
4. Enlist one or two people to help in the kitchen.
Even superwoman (or man) needs help occasionally. In the case of a dinner party, you have to time out everything so precisely that one set of hands just isn’t enough. My roommate and her boyfriend helped out to get things done in the kitchen while everyone else enjoyed the party.
5. Make two different main courses.
The main course is the bulk of the meal, so if someone doesn’t like what you made, they might go hungry. Unless your dinner party is small enough that you know everyone likes chicken or pasta or whatever you’re making, give a few options.
6. Get someone else to bring the salad.
Salads are extremely easy to make, but require a large amount of ingredients and prep work. So, when someone asks, “What can I bring?” make your answer, “The salad.” That way, your kitchen counter space and time isn’t taken up with chopping carrots.
7. Don’t worry if dishes aren’t perfect.
Not everything is going to be perfect. I burned the onions, for example. Not so much they couldn’t be served, but enough that they weren’t fabulous. That’s okay. At the end of the day, this isn’t a cooking competition. This meal is a gift that you’re giving to friends. They will love whatever you make, not matter what the state. If they don’t, you need better friends.
8. Do as much prep work the day before as possible.
Everything is going to take ten times longer than what you planned, and unexpected problems will arise in the kitchen. So, do whatever prep work possible the day before. You want your actual party day to go as smoothly as possible. For example, I did a cookie table for dessert, so I could make them all in advance.
9. Make sure you have enough oven space.
Just like I recommend counting your chairs, also make sure you have enough oven space. My oven is pretty big, but I still had to make the chicken in two shifts, so some people had to wait for the second batch. If your dinner party is really big, you might want to invest in some buffet-style food warmers. When planning the menu, make sure you think about the oven space you’ll need. Plan some stove top dishes to free up some over space.
10. Stop stressin’ and laugh a little.
At the end of the day, no matter what happens, take a deep breath and laugh about it. This is a party after all. Dog eat the turkey? Laugh about it. Use salt instead of sugar in the cake? Laugh about it. Stove on fire? Laugh about it. Well, put the fire out first. Then laugh about it! I know I joked about ordering pizza before, but if you have to do it, it’s not that bad. The important thing is that you’re spending time with friends, not that everything was perfect.
What are your best party-hosting tips?
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