Reining in Ambition: 3 Tips for a Successful Dinner Party

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At 33, I've had several dinner parties, and I feel like I'm just now figuring it all out. Because cooking, like art, is so personal there's a tendency to stretch yourself when your work is on display for a larger gathering. Pinterest boards and blogs fill us with ideas that we save, repin, and keep in the back of our minds. Then when the party planning begins, our excitement soars about the possibilities of assembling all those things together in one GIANT EVENT! Stop there. Back up. It's time to add a few tablespoons of reality.

Being able to consistently cook successful meals at home can provide a lot of confidence — the kind of confidence that makes us think we can manage a dinner party event, no sweat. The kind of confidence that challenges us to try a whole new recipe for the occasion. The kind of confidence that makes us think "Oh, that? That'll just take 10 minutes to prepare."

This, my friend, is also the confidence that can make for one exhausting day and night — one that, after it's all said and done, you agonize over because the pizza dough wasn't just-so, or the cake wasn't as moist as it usually is. You easily overlook the fact that this is all because usually you're not preparing something three times as ambitious for three times as many people.

I say this all, of course, from personal experience. There was a time when I thought having a personal pizza party would be fun — with fresh dough. Wrong. A time when I thought accommodating a gluten-free guest with a gluten-free flatbread would be easy to figure out the first go. False. These weren't complete flops, but as it's happening I'm stressed out and missing out on the 'party' part of the event.

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So here are my three tips for reining things in for a successful dinner party.

1. Don't do too much. 

Your friends don't drop in expecting a three-course meal with an amuse-bouche when they walk through your doors. So don't challenge yourself to give it to them. You're not practicing a tasting menu for your restaurant; you're simply trying to provide some comfort and fulfillment. Focus on meals that have both protein and vegetables, so that an appetizer feels redundant and unnecessary. A one-pot recipe with bread and wine is perfect.

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2. Don't try something too far from your comfort zone. 

This was the case for the gluten-free flatbread. When you're buying a list of ingredients you've never used before at the grocery store, that's a big red flag something's wrong with your plan.

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3. Don't sweat the details. 

Unless you're setting up a styled shoot for your blog or cookbook, don't try to make everything look as picture perfect as you see on the web. Don't go hunt for that simple red and white striped twine or those cute green striped straws (which aren't even fun to drink out of anyway). Setting a simple, comfortable environment is not only easier but it lets your friends relax and not feel like everything is too perfect to touch.

If you are able to successfully abide by those rules, it'll ensure that even you, as the host, will have fun and be ready to do it all over again next time. Cheers to that!


(Images: 1.-3. Chris Perez 4. Gyorgy Barna/Shutterstock)

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