Pass on faux pas: Stress free dinner party tips

We have great news. We’ve got bright days ahead.

We’re going to be hanging out with some people besides the ones we know from reality TV! Making our favorite recipes and sharing them with friends and family. Breaking out our slow cooker. Working some olive oil, red pepper, goat cheese and other assorted ingredient magic. For people we like. For people who aren’t members of immediate families. In our own apartments!

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So let’s refresh those rusty hosting skills and get ready to throw some parties to remember. You probably haven’t lost your social skills. For example, you probably don’t need any tips on how to open a wine bottle. That’s good. It means you’ve already got a start with your corkscrew at the ready.

But cooking dinner — for people who don’t live in your household? Hosting a get-together in person? Putting on something for Friday evening besides a pair of sweatpants? Making sure your apartment doesn’t look destroyed? Scary, right? Wait, just in case you don’t have affordable renters insurance, we highly recommend signing up immediately. It can help cover things like people getting hurt in your apartment and your cooking gear. Not that we think there are going to be any fires associated with your meal. It’s just in our DNA to think about this stuff. Anyway, back to entertaining.

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Who would have thought hosting a great dinner party or a fabulous cocktail party would become a bucket list item? Well, these are the times we live in. But these times are changing for the better. So, let’s break out all the wine glasses instead of just one.

Everyone’s a little rusty when it comes to being the host with the most. But we’ve got good news. You don’t need to be Martha Stewart to host a get-together that everyone you invite over will enjoy. It’s easy to emerge from your social distancing cocoon with the style and flair of a beautiful butterfly. Here are a few simple tips to help you brush up on your “inviting people over and showing them a darn good time” skills. Check them out.

Let’s go!

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Do not fear the dinner party.

Look, you’re not shooting for a five-star dining experience here. All you’re trying to do is show your family and friends a fun night. So, everyone, just relax! If everything doesn’t turn out perfectly, or if you’re still cooking when the guests arrive, don’t stress out. Some people say it’s a faux pas not to have everything done. But this is old-fashioned thinking. Spending some time in the kitchen putting on the finishing touches is A-OK. In fact, it’s an impossibility that you won’t be putting in some final work after guests arrive. So don’t sweat it. You’ve got this.

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Get ahead of the game.

You can make the whole thing easier on your nerves by menu planning ahead of time. Start with a schedule where you make a list and estimate how long you’ll need to do the different things you want to do. Decide which things you can do early in the day and which things will take some finishing touches right at the end. There! You have your road map.

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Here’s a tip to help you get started:

There are some things you want to serve as fresh as possible because it’s important. No one wants a wilted piece of lettuce, after all! So, wash and dry all of your vegetables ahead of time and place them in the fridge with a damp paper towel on top to keep them crisp. Then simply toss your lettuce and pour the dressing over the top at the end. Boom! You’re serving up a perfectly crisp salad. 

Another great idea: Share the workload.

People never like to show up to a gathering empty-handed. They LOVE to bring something for the host. So, instead of leaving what you get to potluck chance, why not put that social nicety to work to help you host a successful party? In other words, do what all people who are successful in life do: Delegate. Send out ideas for what people can bring that fits the theme of your party. A loaf of bread, mixers, a wheel of cheese, whatever you need. Make your guests a part of it, and everyone will have a better time.

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A little grazing goes a long way. 

People love it when you have a little spread of nibbles laid out as the evening starts to get underway. But you want to make sure your guests don’t fill up before you get to the main event. Steer clear of too much bread. Stick to things like olives, small crackers and a few nice cheeses. You’ll keep people entertained and prevent empty-stomach drinking — we all know where that leads. Err on the side of just enough rather than too much. 

Break the rule of three.

In olden times, people always thought you had to serve at least three courses to throw a successful dinner party. Thank God the new kids have come along to put that tradition in the dustbin of history. Because if you follow the three-course rule, you’re going to be going back and forth and in and out of the kitchen all night switching hats between chef, plater and waiter. Not much fun for you!

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Just do a meze-style spread instead and blend all three phases of the dinner into one. An appetizer that pairs with a salad that leads your guests’ palates straight to the main course. It’s not only easier for you, but it also leads to a relaxed evening and a passing around of delicious food that invites conversation. Having all the choices out there at once also lets people cater their meal to their own diets.

Stick to the tried and true.

Throwing your first dinner party since who-can-remember-when isn’t the best time to break out a new recipe you’ve never tried before. You don’t have to shoot for the moon here. You’ll be way more comfortable serving dishes you know you can nail every single time. And your guests will be really happy about it.

It doesn’t have to be fancy. Do not ever underestimate the power of simple to impress. If you can make it great, it will make your dinner party great. You don’t have to reinvent the cheese wheel here.

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How to plan your menu.

As the old saying goes, those who fail to plan, plan to fail. So, here’s a checklist to use when planning your dinner party.

1. Check your tools. How many people can you cook for? Are there any side dishes you can outsource?

2. Consider your guest list. What are the dietary restrictions? Will there be non-drinkers or vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or dairy-free eaters on the guest list? Be sure to accommodate them so no one feels left out.

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3. Balance your dishes. Don’t repeat ingredients, and make sure you have lighter dishes on hand to balance anything heavy.

4. Calculate drinks. The usual rule of thumb is one bottle of wine per person. Seems like a lot, but it’s better to have enough than to run out midstream.

5. Write out a schedule. Do this before the party. It will keep you on task and also be a reminder of any last items you need to pick up at the store.

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Let others share the spotlight.

Letting guests help with the meal loosens up your party and lets people show what they can do. Maybe you’ve got a friend who fancies herself an expert cocktail shaker. Or another one who fancies himself a ninja at carving up a roast chicken. Put those talents to work. Let them show off. It’s less work for you and more fun for everyone else. People love to help.

Now that the meal is covered, let’s get to a quick refresher on how to entertain guests at a party.

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Remember games?

Just to jog your memory, there are all kinds of games people can play besides Words with Friends on their phones. And you’re never too old for games, even though you are now well into the world of adulting.

Let’s all party. Together, once again.

The key to becoming a great host is always being prepared. So, plan your menu. Create your playlist. Get a couple of board games ready. Pop the wine corks. And get back to real living once again. There’s less to worry about, especially if you get renters insurance in case things get really wild. Which could happen because a lot of people might be ready to cut loose since we’ve all been bottled up for a while.

Check out our adulting elite blog for more advice.

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