With Christmas and New Years on the way, you may be starting to put plans in place to meet up with friends and family during the festive period. Often we fall into routines of meeting up; getting together at someone’s house for nibbles or visiting the same pub or restaurant year on year. Why not switch it up this year by inviting your friends over for a dinner party. But how do you go about planning and organising such an event?
This is your chance to bring together friends from different parts of your life; old and new. If these people haven’t met before, consider how well the conversation will flow between them. You don’t want to get caught out with awkward silences and arguments! Alternatively, you can just stick to your regular meeting group of friends. Don’t go all out if this is your first attempt at an informal dinner party. Keep it small and simple, and you’ll thank yourself when the day comes. Between four and six people is a perfectly achievable number.
Think about the personalities of the people you are considering inviting; too many extroverts and it will be an overwhelming experience, too many introverts and you’ll all be sat in silence for the evening. Look for that perfect balance between good storytellers and good listeners.
You will also have to consider what sort of dinner party you are looking to have. Will you be having a traditional dinner party, in which you invite an equal number of men and women? Will these men and women already be couples, or will they be strangers? Would you prefer to have a men-only event, where you can drink whisky and smoke cigars?
The Meal Style
Of course, the main event of these parties is the food. Here you have a couple of options; make it a buffet-style dinner, a family-style meal, or a three or four-course meal. For the buffet, you can cook everything yourself (perhaps with the help of a few added pre-made nibbles from the shop!), or you can ask your guests to bring a dish with them. Have a table or kitchen counter cleared and set aside to present these dishes on, so your guests can easily walk past to select the food that they want.
Opting for a family-style meal, where the components of the meal are all placed in the centre of the table, allows for guests to help themselves to the amounts they want. This also lets guests go back in for seconds if they fancy it. Putting the dishes on the table will also save time and effort, as trying to plate and present individual plates won’t be quite as easy.
However, if you want to go all out with your plating and bring a more elegant and classy occasion to the table, you can opt for a course-based dinner. If you do go for this type of menu, then pare it down, making it as simple and easy to prepare and present as possible. As the host, your main job is to be with your guests, so if you spend the entire party in the kitchen, it’s unlikely to be successful, no matter how good the food you’ve whipped up is. Although, if you have a partner attending who can act as host; taking your guests coats, making them drinks and keeping the conversation flowing, then you can afford to spend a little more time in the kitchen cooking up a feast.
The absolute worst thing to happen at a dinner party is for there to not be enough food. Planning the portions needed in advance is essential. Below we provide a rough guide to portioning for each section of the meal. Don’t forget to account for yourself when planning how much food you need too!
If you have a set starter plate idea, such as stuffed mushrooms, or soup, then obviously you will just need one dish per person attending. However, other starter options can be a little more fiddly to portion. For hors d’oeuvres, you should have two to three different options available. There should be enough for your guests to have around six bites each. Alternatively, you can keep the starter very simple with crisps (alternatively: vegetable chunks or breadsticks) and dip. Pick up about 500g of both dip and dipping foods to serve 10 people.
The Main Meal
Depending on the type of meat that you want to serve, your portion sizes will vary. As a rough guide though, eight ounces per person for poultry, meat and fish is a good starting point. If the meat you are serving has bones, like ribs or chops, then you will want to add on another five to eight ounces per person. If you are using rice as a side dish, then allow for forty grams per person, whereas if it is part of the main dish, like a risotto, then opt for around sixty to seventy grams each. Putting potatoes on the menu? Add two or three per person attending. Or if you are using pasta as the base of your meal, then around a hundred grams each is perfect for a main dish.
You can opt for a one-dish or tin pudding, like a pie, cake or tart, which will be easy to portion as you can serve each guest a slice. Alternatively, you can serve up individual bowls of dessert, such as ice cream or mousse.
If you aren’t sure what types of alcohol your guests like, then just stick to the simple wine and beer options. For wine, get enough for half a bottle per person, while you should get enough beer for two to three bottles each. Remember that some guests may be driving, so get a couple of bottles of a fancy soft drink stocked up in case. Have whisky at the ready for after-dinner drams.
A couple of weeks before: Invite your guests; check that you have enough plates, glasses and cutlery; start to put the menu plan together; buy tablecloths, napkins and candles if you don’t already have any.
One week before: Buy your wine, beer and other alcohols and drinks. Start to put together a playlist if you want to play some tunes at the party.
A couple of days before: Decide on your seating plan, and work out when each dish needs to go into the oven; tidy up the house; buy all of the food you need for the night.
Day of the dinner party: Make final checks to your food preparation timeline and then get to work on those dishes. Make sure your rooms are clean and tidy. Get dressed into something smart and pop open those bottles of wine!