Ina Garten on the Most Important Thing a Dinner Host Can Do

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Watching Ina Garten on TV makes it look like a lot of fun to be Ina Garten, but it really looks like a lot of fun to live next door to Ina Garten. She is constantly entertaining. Watching her show, one gets the distinct impression that she throws a party every time someone comes through her front door. She seems like she’d arrange a quickie welcome luncheon if a squirrel entered her yard, and every person who jogs past her house gets a cosmo and a lobster roll.

If you lived next door to Ina, there’d be a dinner party every night. Of course, you’d have to reciprocate sometimes, but even that wouldn’t be stressful, because it turns out that Ina is a very easy dinner party guest to impress.

As much as she loves cooking and entertaining, Ina told Food and Wine that she loves being a guest. And she doesn’t care what the host is serving or how fancy the fare is, because for her, the most important thing about a dinner party is whether or not the host is having fun.

“I think the most important thing at a dinner party is that the host is having fun,” she said. “If they are wise enough to make a meal that can do without having a meltdown, I think that’s really impressive.”

That might be counter-intuitive. Many hosts spend their parties stressing about oven temperature or folded towels and worrying about whether or not their guests are having fun. But dinner party guests are like walking barometers, they can always tell if their hosts are under pressure. So the best way to make sure the guests are relaxed and having fun is to make sure the host is relaxed and having fun, too.

Okay, so that’s easier said than done. If you shake a stressed-out person and tell them to chill out, it almost never works.

Ina does, however, have some tips for how to handle a dinner party without freaking out. For example, prep dessert in advance, so you can just pull it out of the fridge when it’s time to eat. And never cook something for the first time for a party. You might feel like you want to flex your skills and try something new and impressive, but you’ll have a better time if you’re cooking something you’ve already mastered.

What are your best dinner party tips?

Make-Ahead Recipes from Ina Garten