Dinner Parties: 5 Great Tips for Newbies (Plus Lots More)

Some of you may be pros at throwing dinner parties. Others may be intimidated. But whether you are an old dog looking for new tricks or a Cure taker approaching her first big fiesta, we've got loads of tips to help you out. First up, our top five for beginners...You may have read some of these tips before. We tend to repeat ourselves when it comes to certain advice, if only because we love parties and we want you to enjoy having them. No restaurant can compare to a night with good friends, homemade food, a pretty setting, and a relaxed host (that's you).

If you're wondering where the gorgeous scene above took place... Party planner Jordan Ferney threw this birthday dinner for a friend on San Francisco's Aquatic Park pier. You can read about it on her beautiful blog, Oh Happy Day:
Dinner Party in the Middle of Nowhere, at Oh Happy Day

Back to tips! Here are our Top Five Tips for Newbies:

1. Buy—don't make—an appetizer. Many of you may disagree, but I (Elizabeth) am a big proponent of nuts, cheese, or fancy crackers from a box. Appetizer recipes can often be more intricate and time-consuming than main dishes. If you really want to do something homemade, try these roasted rosemary nuts (which you can easily freeze) or maybe some simple bread, butter, and truffle salt. Anything that can sit out for a while, so it's ready and waiting when guests arrive.

2. Make dessert in advance. Yes, you've heard it. But we can't stress this enough. So many wonderful desserts (like these or this) are easy to do the day or even two days before. Do not stress yourself out during dinner because you're thinking you need to get back to the kitchen to whip up dessert. Other options for make-ahead sweets: Pudding, cookies served on a pretty tray, or homemade rhubarb syrup drizzled over ice cream.

3. Don't plan a self-centered main dish. In other words, one that needs constant attention. Make a braise that can sit in the oven for hours. Or a baked pasta. Or even soup.

4. Spread things out between stovetop and oven. Again, we've mentioned this before, but we still forget ourselves. When looking at recipes, remember that you only have one oven (probably). Don't plan a baked chicken and a baked gratin. Instead, sauté vegetables on the stove top or grill your chicken while the asparagus are roasting in the oven. You get the idea. This is true of pans, too. Make sure you don't need the same big pan for three different dishes.

5. Set the table the night before. A minor thing, but it will save you time and energy the evening of the party. You're guaranteed that your guests will see a pulled-together table when they arrive, even if dinner is still in progress.

More planning tips from our archives:
Dinner Party Timing: Five Tips for Cooking a Full Meal
Dinner Party Planning: Scheduling Backwards
What is the Perfect Size for a Dinner Party?
One Weekend, Two Dinner Parties (Menu Ideas!)
Entertaining: Make-Ahead Tips for Dinner Parties
Our Answer to, "What Can I Bring?"

(Image: Jordan Ferney. Used with permission.)

14 Comments