So, your girl wrangled you into hosting a dinner party, or you thought you’d take the next step with your new neighbours and invite them over to meet the rest of the block. Either way, you have to be prepared when invitations start flying. Here are tips for both gracefully hosting and attending a dinner party.
Inviting your guests
These days, inviting guests to a function at your place is easy—too easy. Facebook invitations have a funny way of getting lost among many others, so reach out to your friends by phone call or text message at least a full month in advance to give them adequate time. Consider first those who have invited you and your girl over recently to repay their kindness. Then, keeping couples in mind (yes, you have to invite them both), think of how many other people you can comfortably entertain in your space. As RSVPs are requested or turned down, fill the remaining seats with people who have cool interests that are similar to your other guests. Make sure they don’t necessarily know each other too well—at the perfect dinner, strangers arrive and leave as friends.
Choose your meal
Don’t begin planning your menu until you know who’s coming. You won’t know how many people to plan for, nor which dietary needs you’ll need to account for. Attempting to cook several courses just before your guests arrive—or, worse yet, after they have arrived—will keep you far too occupied. Consider a meal that you can cook ahead of time and put on ice, such as stuffed bell peppers,and reheat them just before dinner with fresh sides that are a snap to whip up. You want to be in the living room entertaining, not in the kitchen checking on the duck braise. Another option for larger groups is a buffet-style serving method, which can take the form of a taco bar or choose-your-own topping gourmet pizza party for adults.
Keeping your guests in a good mood is more than putting on some mood music and putting a few drinks in their hands. A good rule of thumb is to put less emphasis on providing entertainment, and more on creating entertainment. Making introductions should be at the top of your list, facilitating discussions based on common interests and the like (“Oh, you like craft beer? So does Jack!”). It feels more organic than a forced game of Pictionary and relieves some of the pressure on you, allowing you to enjoy the moment you’ve been planning for weeks.
When seating your guests, arrangements traditionally alternate male/female, but consider splitting couples or close friends up, placing them opposite each other. This prevents pairs from hunkering down and shutting out the rest of the table by positioning guests that are comfortable with one another in such a way that more shy guests can join their conversation. Actually getting down to the meal is relatively simple, just remember that the host has to look out for glasses to refill and empty plates that signal a transition in courses Oh, and guests do not do the dishes.
The perfect dinner guest
If you want to be invited to another dinner party, first and foremost come with an open mind, expecting to meet new people. Upon arrival, seek out the host and say hello immediately, paying attention to each introduction as its made. Unless you were expressly told not to, you should have brought a gift—something your host wouldn’t buy for themselves, and favourably something that might be a complement to the night (hint: they’ve already got those bottles of wine covered). Expensive balsamic vinegar or olive oil pair well with Italian courses, and a pricey bottle of gourmet salsa could be a complement to the South-Western food on the table. And, just like when you had arrived, be sure your host is the last person you say good-bye to. It’s also good form if you leave together.