For many people, the prospect of putting together a dinner party, an open house or any other gathering more formal than a drop-in visit causes great angst. But it’s not scary or difficult. It just takes a little thought.
The first decision to make is the date and time. I suggest looking about three weeks ahead; that gives you time to plan your guest list and your menu, and it is far enough in advance to give your guests time to respond. Of course you can be a little more spontaneous—and you will—but if this is your first go at entertaining, it’s a good idea to give yourself a little extra time.
Most people prefer a weekend evening for socializing, and that works out well for you, too. While Friday nights are an option, Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons might be better if you’re a little bit nervous about the whole thing.
Once you’ve established the when, it’s time to decide the who—or is it the whom? It’s a good idea to begin with people you know fairly well and with whom you feel comfortable. If you’re married, start out by inviting two other couples. You might choose people who know each other slightly, or even people who haven’t met but who have a few things in common. Don’t use this as an occasion for matchmaking (you can try that kind of party farther down the road!)
How to invite is easy. You can either give each couple a call or even drop them an email with the details. Keep it light and easy: “Hey, we’d love to have you and John come over for dinner on the 16th about 7. We asked Sue and Joe, too, and we thought it would be a good time to just relax and enjoy ourselves. Let me know if you can make it!”
Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, it’s time to tackle the menu. Unless you are a professionally-trained chef (and if you are, why in the heck are you worried about entertaining??), the first rule is simple. As in, keep it simple. Don’t tackle a complicated entree that takes several days to prepare or on any dessert that might collapse. But at the same time, don’t be afraid to be a little adventurous. Try a four-course meal.
Don’t hyperventilate. Four courses is easy: appetizer (which can be as simple as crackers and cheese or hummus), salad, entrÈe and dessert. You can do it. Think about the easiest meal you can prepare. If it’s macaroni and cheese, make it the best mac and cheese ever. Serve it in your best casserole dish. Garnish it with fresh basil leaves. Dress it up.
Try to have at least one stand out course. It’s okay to serve a so-so entrÈe or appetizer if you finish up with an amazing dessert.
If it helps, find part of the meal that you can prepare ahead of time. A really special lasagna is just as good if you make it on Wednesday and freeze it until Saturday night (just don’t forget to move it to the fridge either Friday night or Saturday morning!).
Pay attention to the details. If you serve Italian food, use freshly grated Parmesan cheese, not the pre-packaged type. Learn to wash and cut your own lettuce instead of using the bagged greens. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but don’t take short cuts that will make your dinner less than it can be.
Whatever you do, choose something that doesn’t stress you out. The worst dinner parties have hostesses who are too nervous to enjoy themselves. Your guests would rather have mediocre meatloaf with amusing and relaxation conversation than lobster tail and tense silence.
So you have your dinner scheduled, your guests invited and your menu planned. Next time we’ll talk about the big night and how to make sure everything runs so smoothly that you become an entertaining guru!
Tawdra Kandle is a homeschooling mother of four and mother in law of one. FEARLESS, the first book in her young adult series, is now available exclusively at amazon.com. You can visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page .