How to Throw a Dinner Party

There was a time when “dinner party” conjured up images of very formal dinners with fancy linens and matching dinnerware. Today, dinner parties are becoming a favourite way for YPs to socialize with friends. There are a lot of reasons why this is so; maybe you’ve grown tired of the bar scene or you are finally living in your own space (read: no obnoxious roommate), or you’ve improved your cooking skills and repertoire and want to share your new-found love of food and wine. Here are some of our tips for successfully hosting a dinner party: 

Ask people about their dislikes/intolerances/allergies. At my most recent dinner party, there was one vegetarian, a shellfish allergy, two people who were lactose intolerant, one person who did not eat pork, and a strong dislike for olives, goat cheese, and beets. Although you shouldn’t be expected to cater to everyone’s preferences (although allergies are potentially life-threatening so they should be taken seriously), adapting your menu by offering a variety of appetizers and/or main dishes will ensure all your guests are well fed.

Prepare recipes that you are comfortable making…but don’t be afraid to try something new! One year, every single item I prepared was new. I didn’t realize how much of a disaster-in-waiting this was until after it had been (thankfully) successfully executed. If you are not totally confident in your culinary skills, you may want to stick to tried and true recipes that you know taste good and you are able to pull off. However, dinner parties, especially larger ones, are a great opportunity to try recipes that you may have been avoiding for awhile because you are normally cooking for one or two people.

When choosing the recipes, think about how they will come together. If every single item on your menu has to be heated or cooked in the oven at the last minute and at different temperatures, you will have a disaster on your hands. Choose recipes that can be prepared in advance, some that are served at room temperature, and others that need some last-minute fuss. Ideally, you should not be running around like a mad person in the last hour before guests arrive. My goal is to have everything ready and use that last hour to reward myself with a glass of wine.

Be prepared for something to go wrong. Event planners have a rule that if something can go wrong, it will, so planning for disaster is a must. At one of my dinners, my barbecue broke just as I was finishing grilling a flank steak and I still had to grill a cedar plank salmon later in the afternoon. I ended up cooking the salmon sans cedar plank in the oven; all that was needed was a quick search to confirm the appropriate temperature for baking fish.

Matching dishes, cutlery, stemware, and linens is overrated. Unless you are hosting a super formal dinner where proper decorum and matching is required, don’t stress yourself out too much about this. If you have matching items, great, but most YPs live alone or with their partner and do not regularly store large place settings. And let’s face it: your friends will not care whether their plate matches their bowl; everybody is just happy to spend time with friends and have a day off from cooking, meal planning, or eating out.

Follow up personally with your guests if you haven’t heard from them. In my experience, YPs are notorious for losing track of invitations and forgetting to RSVP. Don’t take it personally; they may need to check their partner’s schedule or they may have simply read the invitation at work and completely lost track of it. For better or worse, you will likely have to send a gentle reminder.

Be explicit about when you want your guests to arrive. I once threw a dinner party that was meant to start at 7pm and none of the guests showed up until after 8pm. Although most had legitimate reasons for being late (including a dead phone and being stuck in an emergency room 1.5 hours away), many took the start time as a loose suggestion. Different people have different dinner party styles: some people will have everything ready and dinner on the table when you arrive, whereas others won’t prepare and cook anything until all the guests arrive.

Channel your inner zen. Inevitably, something will get broken or spilled, but luckily most things can be replaced or cleaned. If you own any items that you feel are irreplaceable or that would truly upset you if they were broken or damaged, put them away 

Ask for help. Although you may have been feeling totally confident when you invited 25 people over for a barbecue, if you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it is advice on recipes or help supplying some of the menu items. Most people will be happy to help out. Even though you are hosting, you should be having fun, too.