Socialising in today’s busy world can feel like a challenge, with schedule clashes and double bookings often leaving catch-ups with friends to chance meetings in the street. So when it’s finally possible to get everyone together in one room, over dinner, it’s important to be able to enjoy every minute.
Entertaining in the home can be the perfect way to unwind, but it also comes with plenty of its own challenges, stresses and strains. If you’ve been burned before by this endeavour, and not just by frothing pasta water as it boiled over on the hob, you might be reluctant to throw another dinner party any time soon.
Rest assured though, there are plenty of ways to keep stress levels down even when you’re in charge of wining and dining the masses. Here are a few tips to keep your dinner party stress-free, so you can enjoy time among friends without needing a day to recover.
Keep things simple
A dinner party doesn’t have to mean slaving away in the kitchen, stirring a bubbling pot of food with every available limb. Nor does it mean spending a small fortune on table decorations and new crockery, or creating carefully paired cocktails for every course. As the old saying goes, sometimes, less is more.
We all have our own ways of complicating our lives, and particularly when it comes to entertaining, it’s easy to feel like you have to go really overboard in order to impress. But dinner with friends and family doesn’t have to be elaborate. The simplest way to keep stress to a minimum is to think of your event as an exhibit in luxurious minimalism; great, simple dishes, and a few bottles of fantastic wine, are really all you need.
Music? Pick a pre-made playlist. Decorations? Clean the table and light some candles. Remember that you’re catering for people you know, not the Sultan of Brunei.
Find satisfying food that’s low maintenance to cook
Doing something simply doesn’t mean you’re skipping on being a good host. Doing something that’s easy is fine, even encouraged – too many of us get caught in the cycle of thinking effort equals value. When you’re deciding what to cook, don’t be sucked in by elaborate recipes you’ve never made before – stick to signature dishes you can almost make with your eyes closed, or find a new recipe that requires few ingredients but which can be presented with flair.
Even often fussy dishes can be eased into a delicious dinner with the right, simplified recipe, and remember – this dinner party is to be enjoyed, not slaved over. If it goes well enough that it becomes a regular event in your social calendar, the last thing you want is for every dinner party to begin with a long and strenuous slog in the kitchen.
Delegate smartly in advance
Not taking it upon yourself to solve every little thing can save a lot of last minute scrambling around the supermarket. Ask Alexa for a dinner party playlist; nominate a friend to bring pre-dinner nibbles; skim the Good News Network for some happy headlines that can save table conversation from turning to polarising politics and negative media.
Moreover, understand what it is that your family, and even guests, are best at. Ask your spouse to fix up their famous dessert ahead of time, and see if the children would be interested in being table runners – though be prepared to open your wallet for a little pocket-money-bribery if they seem against the idea at first.
This being your event doesn’t mean you have to do every ounce of the legwork, so spread the load.
Get the drinks delivered
Having the right drinks for each course can make or break a dinner party, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend hours trawling the shops or researching flavour profiles. You don’t even need to trust that guests will bring a few decent bottles – and wind up stressing when dinner is soured by someone else’s poor choice.
Order a selection of red wines and white wines to ensure that different tastes are catered for, or perhaps a few sparkling wines if you’re celebrating an occasion. Online services like Virgin Wines are great places to look if you’re keen to offer something your guests can’t find in the supermarket, and you can find notes on the wines’ origins and taste profiles that can use to really show off when pouring.
Keep an eye on your budget
Feeding a decent number of guests can become a costly process, and taking a lot of the stress out of this often comes down to being pragmatic with your hard-earned money.
While opinions seem to be split as to whether people are eating out more or eating out less nowadays, the truth is that if your dinner party is costing more than taking everyone to dine out with you, you might want to revisit a few details or meal ideas.
This isn’t just for your peace of mind, but also that of your friends and family. Everyone likes to be treated, but putting too much strain on the purse strings can leave guests feeling awkward, and might even put others off hosting a reciprocal party of their own. You’ll be happier knowing your bank balance isn’t too dented after dinner, and it’s more than possible to put on a great spread with high-end tipples for less than the price of dining out.
Lock down those dietary requirements
People have, quite simply, never been more conscious of what they eat than they are now. Even those who don’t opt to have a lifestyle-based diet – vegetarianism, veganism, intermittent fasting – often choose to monitor their intake of those dietary elements that are falling under ever more scrutiny nowadays, like gluten, sugar, or dairy.
This used to be a headache, but new alternatives to any number of otherwise problematic ingredients are emerging all the time. A few years ago, hosting a vegan or coeliac guest could have been a nightmare, but now you can find Free From items in just about every major supermarket. All you need to do is plan ahead.
Get ahead of the game in checking who among your guests have specific dietary requirements, and plan your mealtime accordingly. Nothing makes the heart sink more than painstakingly preparing a meal that one or more of your guests simply can’t eat. Talk things out openly and with a sense of humour, and everyone’s a winner.
Enjoy every moment
Your playlist is on, wine is on the table, and dishes that don’t need constant attention are cooking in the oven. With a little pre-planning, you should be able to enjoy an evening of food, drinks and socialising in as stress-free a way as possible – and you can rest assured that the next dinner party will be totally stress-free for you, when someone you’ve catered to takes their turn at hosting!