So, you’ve made the arrangements, sent out the invites, and you have a party of people coming over to your home for a meal all of your own making. You might be nervous about how you’re going to be a good guest and about your food most of all. The vast majority of people feel the exact same way when they’re hosting their dinner party. So, how do you make sure you’re making the best possible meal you can? By following the tips below, of course.
Fit for your guests
It’s the most important point to note, so it bears being put first. You should make food that your guests can actually eat. This means making a meal that they don’t have any allergies or intolerances of, first and foremost. If they are vegetarian, vegan, or pescatarian, you should take that into account, too, even though their health doesn’t quite depend on it. A phone call or a text a few weeks in advance (or with as much notice as you can get) requesting that they share their dietary preferences should do it perfectly. Don’t use the word ‘restrictions’, since you don’t want guests to feel like they’re a burden.
Do be wary of the word ‘preferences’. Most dinner party guests are polite enough to eat or at least try whatever’s put in front of them so long as they don’t have dietary restrictions that mandate otherwise. But some picky (and perhaps a little rude) eaters will take the opportunity to tell you foods they don’t like. You don’t necessarily have to treat those foods are ‘off-the-menu’ if you don’t want to. There is value, however, in choosing some foods that are good for picky eating guests, just to make sure they don’t go the whole night without eating anything. If you’ve had dinner with them before, you’ve probably seen some indication that they are picky, so inviting them and taking on the responsibility of whether or not you cater to their tastes is on you.
Mix and match
There’s the act of balancing more generally accepted staples with foods that might be a little more adventurous and less of a safe choice. But that’s not the only balancing act you have to master. Far from it. You should also be aware of how well the different meals complement or hinder one another. One of the biggest mistakes is choosing three incredibly rich foods one after the other. Your guests might have trouble finishing it all and those that don’t will be suffering some pretty terrible indigestion for the rest of the night. If you have a rich dessert and a rich starter, balance them with a lighter main. Choose where you want to focus the ‘richness’ of the dining experience. Similarly, make sure your main and side dishes complement one another, rather than clashing.
Avoiding the bland
When you’re using herbs and spices in your food, you have to be careful. A lot of cooks who are trying to impress will add a pinch more than they should. Especially for more pungent flavorings like thyme or coriander, it can easily overpower a meal and eliminate any of the other tastes that are struggling to surface. However, you should know how to use herbs and spices if you’re making a meal to impress. Know what flavorings go with which recipe, which theme or nationality of dish they are best suited to, and how they might change the flavor of your dishes.
Only the freshest
It’s all too easy to want to take shortcuts, especially if preparing for a dinner party feels more like preparing for a war than anything. Some pre-prepared ingredients are acceptable. If you have tinned butter beans instead of fresh in a curry, it won’t be the end of the world. However, if it is one of the core components of the meal, it must be fresh. Nowadays, sites like Citarella.com make it a lot easier to buy fresh produce even if it’s not immediately available in your area. It’s no secret that fresh food is significantly more flavorful than processed and pre-prepared variants. It’s not just fresh meat you should concern yourself with, either. It’s important for sauce bases, too. If you’re making a tomato puree for a dish, don’t use canned tomatoes.
You should never, ever be making a meal for the first time on the day of the dinner party. There a lot of good reasons for this. The first and most obvious is that you haven’t tried the recipe yet. Things can go wrong, the recipe might not necessarily offer the taste you want, and having to follow instructions without knowing which step comes next can push you way out of schedule. What’s more, one piece of advice worth giving to any dinner party host is that you should prepare as much as you can in advance. If you can pick out the components of a meal to prepare on the morning so that your evening is less busy, then you will have a much easier time of it.
Something they might not cook for themselves
As mentioned, you want to find some balance between a safe option and something that’s pushing the boat out a little. But even if it is a dish using ingredients they’re all perfectly familiar with, you can cook it in a way that they haven’t thought to try or even one that they might not be able to. After all, if you have a lot of fancy countertop appliances, you should be looking for an excuse to use them. Most people don’t have a slow cooker, for instance, and slow cooking pork dramatically changes the flavor and texture of it to the point that the average dinner party guest might feel like they’ve stepped foot in a fancy restaurant instead.
We hit on the point of giving yourself something you know how to cook and cooking pieces of a dish in advance so that you have a less stressful time getting everything ready for the evening. There are more ways to cut down on the stress factor, however, and one of the best is hit upon by a selection of recipes from Greatist.com. Think about meals that you can cook once for all of your guests. If you have a smaller party, then having an omelet starter you make for every individual might be manageable. Cooking a new main for every person at a larger dinner party quickly becomes greatly difficult to manage, however. You will end up running over-schedule and even staggering when you serve meals so that by the time the last guest is ready to eat, the first guest who got their meal is finished.
Not everyone is going to pair drinks their meal as you might suggest. If there’s someone there who says ‘no thank you’ to a glass of red and opts for a bottle of beer instead, that’s none of your concern. But when it comes to serving wine with dinner, make sure that you’ve carefully considered your choice. Dry wines, sweet wines, rich wines, red, white, rose, sparkling, they each complement different foods better than the other. Even if you know nothing about wine, there are charts like those shown at Winefolly.com that quickly help you pick the right drink for the meal.
Naturally, it’s not all about the food itself. People like to see that you’ve gone into some effort with the overall aesthetic of it. A little twist on the presentation of the meal itself can make it seem all the more special to your guests, too. You don’t have to go overboard by adding extras to it. For some meals, a simple swirling pattern of balsamic vinegar might just do the right. Similarly, you don’t have to over-the-top with sprigs of holly, but a little garnish of green can make a meal look much fresher. If you see people whipping out smartphones to take pictures of your food, you know you’ve truly done a good job.
It’s not all about the meal when it comes to presentation, either. Setting a scene can have a big impact, as well. Don’t think of it as having dinner at your table. Think as if you were a restaurant owner and set the mood you might like to experience in a restaurant. Learning some basic table presentation etiquette such as how to place utensils and fold napkins should be the bare minimum of work you’re allowed to put into the setting. Beyond that, setting the mood with candle lighting or choosing a centerpiece that fits the theme of the night can really do a lot to complement the taste of a meal. The visuals are there to set up anticipation of the food itself.
There is no guarantee that any meal is going to be loved by everyone at the table. If you do all you can and there’s still someone with a little too much left on the plate, let it go. In most cases, that’s their problem, not yours. Just strive to be the best host serving the best food you can.