25 Dinner Party Do's and Don'ts for a host of hostess.
A successful dinner party is one of the greatest achievements the home chef can claim. Sure, entertaining can be stressful, but don't let that stop you. These 25 rules will help guarantee your success:
DON'T attempt a maiden voyage. It might seem like a good idea to try a new recipe for your guests, but there are few things sadder than realizing that the pork was supposed to have been butterflied by a butcher or rest for four hours...45 minutes before guests arrive.
DO make as much as far in advance as you can. Even if you're a daredevil. Think of how precious those moments are before the doorbell rings. You can catch the cats and lock them in the bedroom, you can pour yourself a glass of wine, you can remember to tell your partner not to mention that thing to that guest.
DO read the ingredient list and directions thoroughly. So you've made this chicken 25 times? It's still a good idea to remind yourself of its specifics--like the fresh parsley you forgot to buy.
DO practice "mise en place." Have all the ingredients out and ready to go before you start cooking. This is a great way to discover you are short on ginger in time to buy more.
DO start cooking a little earlier than you think you should. People are happy to wait on dinner...but not until 10:30. Unless you live in Madrid.
DO take your guests' dietary restrictions into consideration. Although your lamb and eggplant shepherd's pie will be amazing, it will limit your vegetarian, non-nightshade-eating friends to salad and wine.
DON'T go crazy worrying about guests' dietary restrictions. Despite what we just said, you are their host, not their nutritionist. Special meals do not need to be prepared for each guest; just make sure there are options.
DON'T apologize for the food. The roast is a little more done than you'd like? So what? Own it. No one has ever left a dinner party thinking, "I wish he'd said he was sorry for the asparagus being oversauced." If anyone has, find out who and don't invite him or her back.
DO make a playlist. Background music makes things all the more festive.
DON'T make it too loud. No one wants to shout over music, even if it's a great remix of Bon Iver. Especially if it's a great remix of Bon Iver.
DO use cloth napkins. It's a dinner party. You can go back to paper towels and balancing a bowl of quinoa on your lap the night after.
DON'T rely too heavily on your guests. Sure, they asked if they could bring something, but people have been known to forget things at home or be late. If it's an essential item, like ice for the cocktails, you don't want to be left in the lurch.
DO consider seating. If you've invited eight or fewer guests, allow them to seat themselves; with more than eight, be prepared to give direction, if not place cards. Yes, place cards.
DON'T invite all strangers. It might be tempting to introduce all your favorite friends to each other, but if you are the only thing they have in common, the evening might feel more like a mixer than a proper dinner party. Take a note from recipes: Add new elements a little bit at a time.
DO sit down. Plan the menu and the serving of it so you're able to enjoy the meal too. You deserve a chance to eat, but also no one wants to be at a dinner party where the host spends most of the evening urging people to eat while he or she stirs something on the stove.
DON'T pry. If someone says "no thanks" to something you are offering, don't offer reassurance that it's not too caloric or boozy and insist that the person have some. You don't want to force your guests into revealing that they're dieting/pregnant/newly sober.
DO light some candles. Atmosphere! It's what makes a dinner party a party. Your tablescape doesn't have to be over-the-top, but it should look nice. Candles are inexpensive, readily available, and a great place to start.
DO put out salt and pepper. Even if you're serving Sichuan food. Even if you're sure your food doesn't need it. It's just courteous.
DO accept some help--if you want it. This is personal: Some people don't want guests to see behind the curtain or the kitchen door. If you don't mind your guests knowing you don't work clean, then let them clear the table.
DON'T let the guests do dishes--unless they're related to you or they're compulsive. If they are neither, you might be calling their bluff on an empty offer, and then you've made your guest use your ratty sponge, which is not a very gracious experience.
DO serve dessert. Whether it's a beautiful fruit platter, something store-bought (or homemade), or a cheese platter with dried fruit, dessert is a good way to signal that the meal is over and you're on to the next part of the party.
DO think about dessert being served away from the table. It's nice to move to another seating area for coffee and dessert. Just be prepared for people to hunker down. Dinner party guests have been known to linger--especially if the couches are nice and there are unopened bottles of wine...
DO manage your expectations. Not everything will be perfect. Maybe you were planning a sophisticated evening, and then someone found your laptop and started sharing YouTube videos. Go with the flow. Depending on the videos, you can reassess your friendship with that person.
DON'T write thank-you notes. A host(ess) gift is a thank-you. But if you were given something more than wine (a candle, a plant, a hemp grocery bag), you could dash off an e-mail letting your guest know how much you enjoyed his or her company and the thoughtful.
DO start the cleanup before bed. Even if you overindulged. That Dutch oven will look even worse in the light of day. And you'll be so happy to wake up to a clean kitchen. After all, that's what dinner parties are about: good times.
Bridget Moloney is a writer, blogger and crackerjack home entertainer living in Los Angeles.