6 tips to nail your next dinner party

You know how there are some people who pull off dinner parties with grace and seemingly little effort? They're the ones who are wearing a cute outfit and their finest pearls when the doorbell rings. The table is breathtaking and custom cocktails flow until food magically appears from a spotless kitchen. That person could be you.

And before you argue, I don't care that you live in a one bedroom apartment with a closet-sized kitchen. The trick is in planning; this is a time when scheduling makes things more fun.

Here are 6 game-changing ways to get yourself to the point where you enjoy hosting so much you'll be coming up with fake holidays like "National Smoked Fish Appreciation Day" so that you can bust out that smoked trout spread you could make in your sleep.

1) Impressive doesn't mean finicky. It took me longer than I care to admit to come to terms with this. But there was one party I catered which finally tilted the scale, probably because after frantically assembling bite-sized appetizers for 5 hours I wasn't quite done when guests arrived. Never again will I wrap noodles around anything. 

Here's what's equally impressive: a build your own bruschetta platter. Make a few spreads, maybe a crunchy nut crumble, and cheesy yogurt sauce, and let people have fun assembling different combinations. It's great because all of the component parts can be made ahead of time and there's no risk of anything going soggy while you wait for guests to arrive.

2) Don't stress about things being matchy-matchy. Sometimes I go into home decor stores and get stressed out because the theme has been taken too literally and there's butter yellow or black and white pinstripe EVERYWHERE. Themes are better when it's barely obvious that they exist.

So embrace your mis-matched chairs and cutlery, and create the wow-factor by accentuating your favourite thing. Cool throw rug on the back of a bench? Bright purple stitching on your napkins? Stunning pink flowers blooming in the garden? Whatever you choose, pick that up with a few extra touches like napkin rings, a table runner, or a tiny bouquet at each seat.

What's important here is that you do any decorating well in advance. If you don't desperately need the space to live in, plan to set the table (making sure glasses are smudge free and you didn't lend someone a few dinner plates) at least 2 days before the party. And if you're ever in doubt, use white everything.

3) Cook it low and slow. Whether it's braising meat or warming a lasagna, if you can have something cooking in the oven when guests arrive you'll have the time and space to clean the kitchen and look ultra impressive. If you know you'll be busy during the week, some dishes cook up well from frozen and can be made a few weeks in advance - enchiladas, anyone?

Menu planning

4) Do it on Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday... So you're planning a dinner party for Saturday night? There's absolutely no reason why you have to spend the whole day cooking and miss out on a fun day of other activities. You just have to think ahead a little.

Make a list of everything you want to serve. Then break that list down into all of its parts and when you can reasonably do each one. If you were making a roasted vegetable salad it might look like this:

  • Make dressing - Wednesday
  • Crumble cheese - Wednesday
  • Chop veggies - Thursday
  • Roast veggies - Friday
  • Toast nuts - Friday
  • Assemble - Saturday

I like to group types of activities together. Toasting nuts and roasting veggies will both require the oven to be on, so there's less time waiting around for it to preheat if I do them at the same time. Because those are hands-off activities I might do something like assemble dessert on Friday as well.

5) Make the mains a family affair. Serving family style is not only in fashion, but it will make your life delightfully easy. Rather than trying to plate up perfect individual plates in the kitchen (while everything gets cold and your guests incessantly ask if they can help while you holler out "Just a miiiiiiiinUTE!!") plate salads on big platters and cook your main in a funky pot which can be transported straight to the table. I'm a huge fan of the colours of Le Creuset, but if those dishes are out of the budget a trip to the thrift store will do you wonders.

Extra awesome because those bright, colourful dishes will liven up your table better than any decor you could possibly fuss over. Any dishes which aren't temperature sensitive can be put out before your guests even sit down. Gorgeous.

Berry Parfait

6) Stop stressing so much. Is there wine? It's going to be a great night. Everyone feels anxious when the host is anxious. And conversely, when the host is having a great time everyone else will relax too. I swear they won't care that dessert is served in mason jars rather than crystal bowls.

Make sure whatever drinks you're serving are put in the fridge in the morning and there's space in the fridge or a cooler in case anyone else brings over bottles. I like to set up a bar area that allows people to self-serve without standing in the middle of the kitchen. Consider a variety of glasses, an ice bucket, and some citrus. And don't forget the non-alcoholic option!

I'm not trying to down-play the fact that hosting can be overwhelming at the start, especially when you have a lot going on in your life already. What I am saying is that you've got this. If you're still wondering where to start, shoot me an email and I'd be happy to give you a list of tried and true dinner party recipes that will greatly reduce stress and impress absolutely anyone.