Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tips for Planning a Dinner Party

Photo Credit: myretrohouse.tumblr.com

Would you believe me if I told you I can count the number of dinner parties I've thrown on one hand? Shocking, I know -- being a "Food Blogger", you'd think I'd be throwing dinner parties left and right, but that's just not the case. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that before I moved to Ottawa, my last apartment was 250 square feet (and I did actually have a dinner party for 3 in that space!) ; or maybe it's because I just haven't had the cash to shower guests in food and drink frequently....I mean, we can't all be the Barefoot Contessa playing around in our Hamptons kitchens all day! I actually love Ina...but that's besides the point...

Back to dinner parties. I'm having one this weekend and while planning it, I thought I might share some of my planning tips! Not to be held back by my novice status as dinner party host, I have thrown many a cocktail party and I've worked in the food biz, so because of that I've amassed some tips on serving groups successfully.

Tip #1: Confirm and Organize
Confirm the number of guests (this means hounding those "Maybe Attending" people a little), and then buy enough food so that you can make enough for 2-4 extra people, depending on your crowd. You never know who'll be super hungry that night or who might show up at the last minute with an unannounced plus-one.

Organize your food and drink budget. I usually figure out my menu first and then just deal with how much it costs, but if you have an idea of how much you'd like to spend, then look at menu options through a more thrifty lens. Think one-pot meals if you're trying to save a buck. Booze-wise, I'd recommend budgeting for 3 glasses of wine per person, depending on your crowd. If you're having cocktails first, perhaps budget for 2 glasses of wine per person, but then again it depends on the crowd. Let's just say I'm budgeting for mucho vino.

Tip #2: Get Inspired and Plan your Menu
I tend to flip through food magazines and cookbooks to get inspired for dishes, but you can also get inspired by what's fresh at the market or the local food shop. Have an idea of any dietary restrictions, allergies, vegetarians or food preferences before you decide. You don't want to serve something that creates an awkward situation for your guests.

Tip #3: Prep and Chill
Buy ice, chill your wine, prep your veggies and other components for your dishes. Make sure you have enough dishware and glassware, and don't forget garnishes like lemons and limes if you're serving cocktails!

Tip #4: Clean and Decorate
If you're like me, you wake up early the day of the dinner party and run around like a madwoman doing a tonne of last minute cleaning! If at all possible, try to clean in bits throughout the week instead of leaving it all until the last minute. Unless you get the "cleaner's high" that I get from doing a cleaning binge, you'll end up frazzled and exhausted by the end of the night.

Decorating your place and your table for a dinner party can be extremely fun and creative! You can choose a theme, a colour scheme or just make due with what you have available and mix and match. My tips here would be to keep it simple, don't crowd the table and make sure everything you'll need is either on the table or within reach so you're not getting up repeatedly throughout the meal.

Have fun decorating your place and editing where necessary! If you're like me and your place is somewhat open concept, you may have to hide the mountain of ironing you've been putting off for weeks or any other personal things that are lying around. Put a few candles here and there, make sure the plants are watered and feeling their best, and do a little dusting!

Alright, so I don't normally channel Martha or Emily Post, but I thought since I'm planning my own dinner party, I'd let you in on things I like to keep in mind. One last tip? When prepping, wash dishes as you go. When cooking and serving, throw it all in the sink for later. Don't waste time cleaning while your guests are there. They want you to have a good time too, and after a few drinks and a chocolatey dessert, they may even feel generous enough to help you wash and dry!

Photo Credit: FotoSource

What are your tips? A novice like me needs all the help she can get...


  1. Great tips. I need to work on cleaning in advance. I always end up running around like a fool the day of a party.

  2. Great post Heather! I also try to do a walk through like a guest. Is there a place for my coat? Soft towels and a candle in the bathroom? Cozy seating ready for conversation and good music at the right volume? All of these things will make your guests at home which will heighten their experience with your menu even more.

  3. Great tips! So true.. Decorating can really take a dinner party to the next level. We hosted a three course dinner party on Friday night and I was disappointed that our guests arrived empty handed after all my time and preparation... ended up drinking 4 of our own bottles of Prosecco and vino... I know who won't be getting an invite next time ;)

  4. Great tips, Andrea! FoodFanatic -- that is so unfortunate! Oh well, at least you knew you were drinking good wine because you chose it yourself!